The word "genius" gets thrown around a lot when referring to various musicians, but in the case of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, it is genuinely appropriate. Of course, many musical geniuses tend to be troubled people and, in that regard, Wilson is no different. The movie Love & Mercy, which stars Paul Dano as the young Brian in his 1960s creative peak and John Cusack as the overmedicated, misdiagnosed “patient” of Dr. Eugene Landy, does an excellent job of showing both the highs and lows - and there are plenty of both - in Wilson’s life and career.
Of course, no Wilson biopic would be complete without his timeless music accompanying it and the soundtrack to the film, available now digitally and on CD September 18, shows these peaks and valleys as well, both through Wilson’s music as well as through the score from Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross. The soundtrack, much like the film, alternates between the two, illustrating that while the Beach Boys may have been achieving artistic triumphs on record, Wilson’s mental state was fast decaying.
Music from Love & Mercy starts with Ross’ track “The Black Hole.” It opens the film and provides a trippy sound collage of Beach Boys' music. It leads into the classic “Don’t Worry Baby,” contrasting that song’s prettiness with its more sinister approach. These two moods alternate throughout the album.
“Silhouette” opens in a menacing way, sounding more like the soundtrack to a horror film than one about one of the most beloved musicians before melting into some Beach Boys-esque harmonies. Dano’s version of “God Only Knows” follows. He did his own singing here and, in imitating the song’s demo form, recreates the original’s vulnerability flawlessly. When his voice cracks, it somehow makes the track’s sentiment all the more poignant. It doesn’t feel out of place next to the Beach Boys’ original on the soundtrack, a song Paul McCartney has stated is his favorite of all time.
“Believe” highlights one of the more tumultuous periods of Wilson’s '60s career, as he was taking an extraordinarily long time completing both “Good Vibrations” and his SMiLE album. Dreamy harmonies accompany a throbbing bass line before leading into Wilson’s masterwork, “Good Vibrations,” one of the crown jewels of the rock and roll era.
Of course, things would quickly go downhill for Wilson after “Good Vibrations” as he never finished SMiLE in the 1960s and he descended further into mental illness and drug abuse. Score tracks such as “Losing It,” “I’m Right Here,” and “The Bed Montage,” offer a view into this terrifying mental period for Wilson. “The Bed Montage” in particular uses clips of the Four Freshmen as well as the Beach Boys in a montage meant to represent the years Wilson spent largely in bed. Wilson himself has said the movie was truthful and that his reality was often worse than what was shown, which is saying something given the dark nature of this music.
Of course Wilson’s story is one of a remarkable comeback, both mentally and creatively. “Intersection” marks the point where he quite literally ran into his current wife in a California intersection and the pair decided to rekindle their relationship after some time apart. A pair of Wilson solo tracks, the hopeful “Love And Mercy” and a new song “One Kind Of Love,” round out the album. The former is one of the high points of his solo career and often closes his live concerts. The version here is live and Wilson is in fine voice. The latter comes from his most recent album and is a big power ballad with trademark Wilson harmonies.
Making a biopic about as complex, yet beloved a person as Brian Wilson is a daunting task and Love & Mercy largely succeeds in presenting his story. Likewise, the soundtrack is an excellent mix of just enough Beach Boys and Wilson originals and fine score pieces from Ross to paint an audio picture of this musical genius.
Brian Wilson's "One Kind of Love":