Harry Nilsson – Son Of Schmilsson

sonschmilssonUnless you are drunk, drunkards are not that funny. Besides having the voice of an angel, Harry Nilsson was a teddy bear with the edges scuffed. His paw got stuck in a pot of honey, and the best Nilsson records air the schizoid warmth of his personality: drunk and disorderly; sweet, shy, and childlike. Because the man endears, the legend endures. His covers of songs by the Beatles and Randy Newman gleam. He, too, has been covered, widely. Many of the things he loved I love (just to name some: melody, the Plastic Ono Band, comedy records, schmaltz, fey pop). And I see so much of myself in him, I find it hard to dismiss even his slightest stuff.

Taking the piss out of all and sundry — country laments, smut rock, lounge music, Dylan hate-on-yous — but primarily himself, Harry had a lot of baggage1. I think success scared him. He liked being a cult figure. He was conditioned to squander his talent.

On Son Of Schmilsson, there are glorious moments, but, even though it has the same varied approach as Nilsson Schmilsson, the same players (mostly — Ringo moonlights as Richie Snare), and the same solid musicianship, it lacks discipline and it lacks force. Nilsson Schmilsson is perfect pop-rock. Son is the lazy sequel. Shaded by melancholia, the jokeyness is revealing. Beneath the send-ups and the scat, the album is a cry for help — one that would peak two years later, on Pussy Cats.

So, Son Of Schmilsson is where Harry began to crack. The product of a popsmith, it’s also a signpost for the last twenty-two years of his life — a dance with self-destruction.

1He never knew his father and he never finished high school. He also left his first wife and child.

Rating: B+

About Jack Cormack

Email Jack at jackyboy916@gmail.com.