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"I'm pickin' up good vibrations"

Class C

Main Category: Lush Pop
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Art Rock
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years,

The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties






Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Beach Boys fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Beach Boys fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Beach Boys are frequently considered to have been the American version of the Beatles, which is neither a compliment ('whoah, these guys are greater than Lennon-McCartney!') nor a denigration ('just look what these ridiculous Yanks offer as competition to our Liverpool boys!'). A much less vague and a much better formulated statement would be saying that people tend to react to the Wilson family in terms of rather overheated sentiments - to put it very mildly. The Beach Boys were an event, a symbol; whatever they were, they were important, and as it often happens with important bands, they are often judged for what they should not be judged.

Typical reaction number one, which has not so much to do with the quality of the Beach Boys' music as it has to do with general anti-Americanism, is writing the Beach Boys off as silly surfin' pop crap - usually demonstrated by people who tend to dismiss all 'pop' music as, at best, a lightweight and imbecile precursion to the 'serious' progressive/avantgarde/sophisticated stuff. As naturally wrong as it is, it is by no means compensated by the zealous sermons of people who think it their mission to convince the agnostics that Brian Wilson is, in fact, the long-lost heir of Jesus Christ and that Pet Sounds is the true New Testament of rock music (and Smile its hard-to-discover Holy Grail). These two parties and their respectable opinions usually rule the world of Beach Boys' creative discussion, and where East is East, West is West: "no band with a song like 'Surfin' Safari' deserves to live in a world populated with Jethro Tull members", say the ones, "no one sees the face of 'God Only Knows' and lives the same way as before", object the others.

Still other people prefer to take a completely different standpoint and object against this particular Beatles/Beach Boys matchup in the first place. This is unreasonable; such a connection could not have appeared artificially, and, although quite a few other American bands had been called "the American Beatles" at different periods (the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, among others), the links between the Fab Four and the Noble Surfers are certainly stronger than anybody else's. Both bands started out at the same time, being at the absolute forefront of the pop revolution of the early Sixties: in fact, the Beach Boys' debut actually preceded Please Please Me by half a year. Both bands showed the importance of relying on one's own forces instead of trusting outside songwriters; both demonstrated astonishing musical progress and yielded first-rate musical visionaries - unfortunately, only one in the case of the Boys (as much as I respect the talents of Dennis and Carl Wilson, they really surfaced at a much later period and even then were only a pale shadow of the former genius of Brian). And, of course, the two bands' creative competition through the 1965-67 period has by now passed into legend.

Who was better? The Beatles, of course, and I'm not even going to waste space debating this. (Yeah, I know it's only my opinion, but hey, it's my website as well). But then the Beatles were better than anybody, and passing on the laurels does not mean we're completely out of wreaths. And if it turns out that a lot of people pay no attention to the Boys whatsoever, well, this simply has to do with Fate, which has been more than unjust to the band.

The Beatles were lucky to assure themselves a certain degree of creative independence from the very beginning - by having a witty, sensible manager and no strong family ties. The Beach Boys, on the other hand, were managed by their Dad, Murray Wilson, who could be strong and decisive but couldn't tell Art from Fart even at gunpoint (not that he ever needed to, as long as the cash was coming in). In between family pressure, Capitol greed, and the 'collaborationism' of lead singer Mike Love, always the weak link in the band (spiritually, at least), the Beach Boys were all but forced to keep the "beach" image - to be forever pegged as grinning surfboard-trailing Ipana smile high school idiots with nothing but surfing and cruising on their minds. (Ironically, almost none of the band members were surfers in real life). For several long years Brian Wilson conducted a struggle against this tag... and ultimately lost the struggle by burning out.

The Beatles were also lucky not to have lasted that long. Whatever serious reputation Brian may have earned the band by steering it into the art rock channel in the mid-Sixties was already half lost by the time he'd gone into seclusion, and after the "glory surf" days of 1962-65 and the "pop heaven" pinnacle of 1966-early '67 came a long period of chart disappointments, personal frustration, desperate search for a new identity, patches and groves of brilliancy mixed with failed experiments and embarrassments. That period (1967-73) happened to become one of the fans' favourites, and for good reason: there's plenty of great art-pop material to be found on albums like Wild Honey, Surf's Up and Holland, much of it actually outtakes and rewrites of what Brian already had in mind in 1967, but not limited to oldies, and that is also the time when brothers Carl and Dennis lend one hell of a serious helping hand. Unfortunately, since 1976, with Mike Love taking almost full control of the band, they truly turned into an oldies outfit, and, although their late period albums aren't nearly as detestable as some will tell you (and some, like Love You, are actually excellent all the way through), this intentional reappraisal of their early Sixties image, as undertaken not by skinny sixteen-year old innocent youths, but fat, spoiled, bearded, and decadent rock stars, won them few new fans and lost quite a few old ones. (And by "new fans" I certainly don't mean all those people who were sending 'Kokomo' up the charts in the late Eighties).

Supplement creative problems with personal ones - pretty much every Beach Boy has had at least one serious psychic trauma in his life (not sure about Al Jardine), and two of them ended up dead at a pretty early age - and all of a sudden, in the place of a silly superficial surf band appears a whole web of serious ambitions, rich experiences, and tragic fates. And, thankfully, on top of it all, a rich, resplendent musical baggage. True, the Beach Boys were not about "rocking out"; but what's wrong with that? True, their music was never 'protest-ful' as real rock music should be (the few cases of Beach Boys essaying something 'socially biting' should better be left forgotten - 'Student Demonstration Time', anybody? Puh-lease!), nor was it ever pessimistic, despite all their misfortunes - but with all the pessimism and anger and depression and rebellion around, who wouldn't want to have a quiet haven for relaxation?

On the other hand, their music was deeply personal and individualistic; exceedingly religious - and I don't just mean Brian's "teenage symphonies to God"; religiousness flows through almost everything Brian Wilson ever did, starting with 'Surfer Girl' at least; and, of course, amazingly complex without looking artificial or show-off-ey. Even the Beach Boys' wildest enemy won't deny this band was king when it came to vocal harmony arrangements. In the mid-Sixties, the Beach Boys' music epitomized "BEAUTY": the kind of supreme, abstract, unreachable, idealistic, Platonic BEAUTY that the world of pop music had not yet seen, and, in fact, the world of music overall had not seen since... since... well, Brian Wilson hasn't exactly been called the 'Mozart of surf' for nothing.

In the long run, it's just best to take the Beach Boys for what they were, and they were different things at different times. Unless you're a ferocious metalhead or a Metal Machine Music adept, I think you'll always find at least something in their catalog that'd suit you. The Beach Boys weren't tremendously diverse (for instance, for all their fusion of pop with classical music, their mastery of all things blues- and jazz-related always left something to be desired), but they worked in the experimental pop genre, and this usually leaves a lot of room for everything. Unfortunately, you'll have to dig - getting Pet Sounds and falling in love with Pet Sounds is easy, but most Beach Boys albums, early or late, are uneven, and as for compilations, they do not always put the band under the best of lights; since the release of Endless Summer in the mid-Seventies, most of them tended to present the band as a 'party' one, further denigrating the band's reputation.

Yet despite all the odds, their legacy lives on - every now and then you're bound to come up with some new record that is described as "the Pet Sounds of its generation". It's been said about the Velvet Underground that they had few fans, but each one of those formed a new band of his own; almost the same could be said about the 'elitist' Beach Boy fans, the ones that truly 'get' the band as opposed to the general public that only knows them through 'Fun Fun Fun' and 'California Girls' (at best, through 'Good Vibrations' as well). Their influence can hardly be measured in words - and it's quite telling that some of the best indie-pop bands of the Nineties, like the Flaming Lips, for instance, mix Beatles and Beach Boys influences in more or less equal proportion.

Lineup: the Beach Boys were a true 'family' group. Brian Wilson - bass guitar, vocals, creativity; Carl Wilson - lead guitar; Dennis Wilson - drums; Mike Love - vocals; Al Jardine (the only non-relation) - rhythm guitar. All of them were great singers, so please add 'backing vocals' to everyone. There were some changes in personnel over the 70's which I'll be mentioning in the respective reviews. The only things you need to memorize before carrying on is that (a) both Dennis and Carl are already dead; (b) Bruce Johnston was an occasional replacement for Brian, especially on tour, and later joined permanently; (c) Brian's presence on all things post-Pet Sounds has been of extreme variability, and since the self-titled album of 1985, he's been disassociating himself from all things "Beach Boy-related", which is why I'm still not in a hurry to complete my catalog.



Year Of Release: 1962
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

This is 'Fun Fun Fun' even before the song itself. Predictably marred by generic contemporary stuff, but still...

Best song: 409

Track listing: 1) Surfin' Safari; 2) County Fair; 3) Ten Little Indians; 4) Chug-A-Lug; 5) Little Miss America; 6) 409; 7) Surfin'; 8) Heads You Win - Tails I Lose; 9) Summertime Blues; 10) Cuckoo Clock; 11) Moon Dawg; 12) The Shift.

We will start this off with a controversial bit of statement: despite what people may tell you about creative growth blah blah blah, the Beach Boys were great from the very beginning. Okay, that was shocking, or stupid, or both. Of course they weren't really "great" in 1962. Then again, they were rarely 'great' at other periods, either, that is, if by 'great' you mean 'huge in the eyes of the demanding part of the public' (Pet Sounds is one of the few exceptions). But in a certain sense they were great from the very beginning: the amount of pure, unspoiled, unpretentious, sweet, innocent, and at the same time moderately intelligent (in a very special sense of the word, of course) F-U-N that you get from listening even to this ragged collection of hastily assembled material is simply stuttering.

I mean, look at the friggin' date. This was 1962, by Chrissake! The Beatles were still recording 'Love Me Do' and playing late-period Hamburg gigs at the time! We all know the epoch, don't we - that God-forgotten period of the early Sixties when rock'n'roll died for the first time and Fabian and Frankie Avalon temporarily took its place? Well, it wasn't exactly up to the Beach Boys to shatter that adult-happy world of revanchism, but they came damn close. And it's not so much because there's a cover of Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues' on this album - most cleaned-up white boys of the time used to borrow an occasional rocker or two from the overthrown Fifties' heroes as well - it's rather because there is an unmistakably raw, unadorned, 'do-it-yourself' attitude on Surfin' Safari which the cleaned-up white boys just couldn't allow themselves. Surfin' Safari sounds like it was recorded for fifty bucks over two hours - and it probably was. And that's good.

Not that there was any intentional musical revolution or anything equally grand going on. The Beach Boys were still in high school at the time; like every standard Californian with high expectations, they were pretty, smiling, unsuspecting kids with surfboards (or, at least, pictured with surfboards) and hardly any musical ambitions in the first place, steered only by caring father Murray Wilson and the usual kid desires of babes and glory. The collective Britney Spears of their time. And, of course, nobody could expect them to break out of the corporate industry like that, all of a sudden; they didn't have the guts to protest against Capitol milking them and their talents mercilessly for almost three years, nor, in fact, would they succeed at the time even if they had the guts.

Naturally, Surfin' Safari is quite a typical product of its time - a time when the LP was still considered essentially as a way of cashing in on the success of a previous single (in this case, the title track, of course). Evidence? Filler-a-plenty. Well, okay, not really "plenty", considering that the album itself is so short it's over before you can even say 'chug-a-lug' - but even for that mammoth length of 24:50, there's a couple of truly nasty bits. For instance, the sweet, artificial ballad 'Little Miss America', the kind of generic sha-la-la-la stuff that millions of local and national bands and artists were pouring out in wagonloads at the time, precipitating "Little Miss America"'s fall into the embrace of rock'n'roll once again. It is interesting to note, though, that 'Little Miss America' is the only true ballad on the entire album - a thing quite exclusive for a band that was later to gain huge notoriety for their balladeering style and, in fact, build their reputation as 'serious artists' through soft sentimental stuff rather than upbeat pop hooks. If anything, it shows that at this point, the songwriting talents of Brian Wilson were still burgeoning.

However, if you're not that much of a ballad fan - watch out for that guitar! Carl doesn't do a great job there, of course (how could he? bet he didn't even have his driving license!), but it's obvious that he's been painstakingly trying to assimilate quite a few Chuck Berry licks, and even if their boogie-woogie isn't too audacious, it's still eminently danceable and, well, like I said, fun. Most of the melodies are indeed credited to by Brian Wilson (although I'm sure they're mostly stolen), while the lyrics come courtesy of his school pal Gary Usher. But don't make the mistake of listening to the lyrics on an early Beach Boys album - if you don't assume, once and for all, that ninety percent of them range from insignificant to ridiculously clumsy, this can really spoil your impression. Just enjoy the two jolly surfing odes (title track and 'Surfin'', their two earliest hits) and '409', the initiation of the car craze. All three songs are significant landmarks in Beach Boys history, and all of them feature the embryo of what was soon to come: a catchy, eminently sing-alongable melody, a ringing Berry-style "watered-down rock'n'roll" solo, a simple but steady bass line (Brian did pretty well on bass from the start, for a boy with no professional training), and above all - the immaculate harmonies of the band.

Now, actually, the harmonies at this point aren't all that prominent here, especially since Brian still hasn't developed that wonderful falsetto trademark of his, but they're still an essential component of most of the songs, especially on '409', with its 'giddy up giddy up' line, which I used to repeatedly interpret as 'idiot idiot floor of mine'. Hmm, well, okay, maybe 'Surfin' Safari' still beats it in terms of harmony complexity. And that stupid little 'dit-di-dip' doo-wop chanting on 'Surfin' - I know it's ridiculous, but it's really so cute in its youthful innocence and defiant unprofessionalism. As stupid as all this may seem to those preferring to judge pop music by modern standards, in 1962 this wasn't your old washed-up man kind of stupidity. It's a romantic and honest kind of stupidity - and when it comes to music, an honest fool is sometimes way better than an insincere wise guy.

And speaking of the "early stage" phenomenon, don't say you can't hear the opening lines of 'I Get Around' in the 'here a mug, there a mug, everybody chug-a-lug' refrain ('Chug-A-Lug'). Oh yeah, that's right up there, sir. And while the song is usually chosen as victim number one among the carnivorous critical environment, there's no getting away from the fact that it's the only anthem to root beer in my classic rock collection, which is, at the very least, just a fun fact. Everybody needs a root beer anthem in their collection, even if one actually hates root beer.

In any case, I like this record, and maybe even a little bit more than its immediate successor. Maybe it's the youthful enthusiasm that gets me going, or maybe just because they're so eagerly ripping off classic rock'n'rollers that I feel like listening to a Chuck Berry album. And no matter how naive or derivative songs like 'Cuckoo Clock' or 'Heads You Win - Tails I Lose' may sound, it's a fair gamble to state that they should have, at least in the rawness department, stood out from among similar efforts of the epoch. Even 'County Fair' is a tune guaranteed to bring an innocent, naive, silly smile on your face - that 'instrumental break' with 'county fair noises' in it is awful, of course, but the nasal, whiny vocals of Mike Love really bring the image of an inexperienced, charming little teenage boy who's like a baby - I mean, hasn't had enough time yet to be spoiled by the cruel world of showbiz.

If anything, the Beach Boys craze all over the country that was just round the corner couldn't have been simply trumped up. They had inspiration. They had charm. They had talent. Above all, they had sincerity - and I can't really see why the 'girls' and 'cars' thematics that's one hundred percent dominant in their early compositions should appeal far less to the general teenage mind than, say, the subjects raised by the Clash fifteen years later. Some like violence and 'London Burning', some like driving a brand new Toyota, and some like getting laid. And what's wrong with that?



Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Good to dance to, but just how much instrumental bravado CAN we take from the Beach Boys around 1963? (Or ever, for that matter?)


Track listing: 1) Surfin' USA; 2) Farmer's Daughter; 3) Misirlou; 4) Stoked; 5) Lonely Sea; 6) Shut Down; 7) Noble Surfer; 8) Honky Tonk; 9) Lana; 10) Surf Jam; 11) Let's Go Trippin'; 12) Finders Keepers.

Starting with this album, Capitol began their humiliating politics of milking the band for much more than it was worth - Surfin' USA's couple high points are unquestionably higher than the ones on Surfin' Safari, but overall, there's more filler here than could ever be installed into the mouth of Lemmy Kilmister. And that's considering just how short all these early Beach Boys albums are! 24:21, thirty seconds less than its predecessor! A band like Yes would still be warming up its instruments! Technical note - at one point, the "kind" people at Capitol actually dropped the quotation marks and started releasing these early albums on two-fer CDs - two LPs plus a bunch of bonus tracks. Then they became greedy again and started re-releasing stuff at monster prices, one LP per disc plus no bonus tracks. Then they saw that most people were rational enough not to want to pay full price for a 24-minute LP which happened to have 'Stoked' and 'Let's Go Trippin' on it, too, and, fortunately, returned to their senses by reprising the two-fer routine. Who knows how long they will last?

Okay, technicalities and whining aside, let us now discuss the actual musical value of Surfin' USA, the Surf Kings' second American LP. Most of the songs on it are pretty nice ear-candy, even though neither Brian nor the others do not display a lot of musical ideas. But why should they? There were still no Beatles for miles around to raise the world from slumber, and even so, this album manages to surf-rock out pretty damn good. Do not, repeat, do not accuse early Beach Boys (or early Beatles, or early anybody) albums of being silly; in doing so, you fall into the 'trap of the epoch'. You wouldn't accuse a caveman of not drawing his buffalo bison with enough precision and accuracy, now would you? and yet, if you're an art lover, you are able to admire it, if you just take a correct stand. Same goes for surf rock. This album should be judged according to the values of 1963 or it shouldn't be judged AT ALL.

Problem is... even according to the values of 1963, there's not that much to judge. Once again, the Beach Boys were rushed into the studio upon the success of their next single, and this time, they had almost no chance to leave their mark on anything: the material is more or less equally divided between generic, sappy ballads and fun, but completely throwaway surf instrumentals which you can easily dance to while they're on but no sooner than they're over they're gone for eternity, unless for some unclear reason you decide to go back from where you came...

Even the single is not that great because it doesn't demonstrate any major progress. Everybody knows the title track, the band's signature tune of 1963, but it isn't even a rip-off of Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen' - it is 'Sweet Little Sixteen' with a different set of lyrics ('everybody's gone surfin'/Surfin' USA') and one half of the guitar solo replaced by an organ solo. Chuck apparently sued them for it and won - so that for a long time afterwards, it was appropriately credited to 'Berry', with no mention of a Wilson anywhere in sight. Being absolutely toothless and harmless, it's only natural that 'Surfin' USA' united the country in a much more radical way than 'Sweet Little Sixteen' - but in any case, it was a move way too similar to all the generic suave boys of the early Sixties dissolving the essence of true rock'n'roll in strong saccharine mixtures. It does rock, though. Moderately. And there's no denying that the harmonies have improved vastly - with the band now overdubbing vocal tracks, they add the first whiff of that unquestionable Professionalism that would soon become inseparable from all of their work, even the worst of it.

There's also a couple more rockers, just to keep your feet tapping, and they don't seem to be so obviously plagiarized, but don't forget that the 'hit' 'Shut Down' was later re-written as both 'Little Deuce Coupe' and 'Fun Fun Fun' - them car songs don't get better you know! And 'Finders Keepers', while it deceptively begins with a cheerful Jerry Lee-style piano intro, immediately develops into a second-rate surf rocker, no better and no worse than 'Shut Down' and the rest of 'em. And ever heard 'Noble Surfer'? Geez, the title is so ridiculous; but perhaps the funniest thing about the song is that when they reprise the title in the harmony section, they go like 'No-bull... sur-fer... no-bull... sur-fer'. No bull, indeed. Okay - some bull, as I'm not really inspired by this thing.

The only true advance here can be seen in the ballad department. This time, there's three ballads, and although at least one of them is written strictly according to the doo-wop handbook ('Lonely Sea'), this is the first time we get acquainted with Brian's angelic falsetto in all of its glory. It's no wonder that 'Farmer's Daughter' was later covered by a number of bands, including Fleetwood Mac: the first gorgeous ballad in the Beach Boys catalog, and thus, a song that sets the stage for all the future artistic triumphs. At the same time, it is one of the simplest and catchiest Beach Boys ballads, and thus wins extra points for an air of total innocence and freshness without losing them for being boring or non-emotional, which it ain't. Note, however, that both 'Farmer's Daughter' and 'Lana' are relatively upbeat, and only 'Lonely Sea' tries to go for the kind of dreamy atmosphere that would soon become the norm - but is way too generic to capture that atmosphere.

Still even these solid tunes get lost in a bunch of uninspired (although not always totally uninteresting) jams. Yes, they do show the Beach Boys actually can play their instruments - and at quite a significant level for a bunch of "singing kids" circa 1963. Unfortunately, Capitol made them overdo the subject: five instrumentals is way too much, don't you think? It's curious that 'Stoked' (credited to Brian) sounds almost exactly like the Stones' 'Stoned', released half a year later, with the only difference that the Beach Boys sing 'stoked' and Jagger sings 'stoned' - I don't think I need to explain the roots of this euphemistic differentiation. Who did they rip it off? Whoever it was, the poor guy is left uncredited on both versions.

It's all the more pitiful that 'Surf Jam', 'Misirlou' and 'Honky Tonk' all sound more or less the same (not to mention add nothing to the originals - and who can beat that guitar pulsation welcoming you into the world of Pulp Fiction as the credits roll along?). And apart from 'Misirlou', where the main guitar theme keeps the lead guitarist busy all the time, can all be described in terms of Mr Carl Wilson Conducting a Careful Dialog with his Instrument so as not to Piss Said Instrument Off by Excessive Plucking. I, personally, was raised on the Rolling Stones' early instrumentals, and while these also leave something to be desired in terms of monster professionalism, at least they got guts. 'Surf Jam' ain't got no guts.

Nevertheless, despite the critiques, I give the record a 5/8, and consider it generous for an album thus choked with go-nowhere tunes. For the record, this is the only LP where Al Jardine doesn't play rhythm guitar, being temporarily replaced by 14-year old (!) neighbour David Marks. Not that anybody noticed, of course, although, if you ask me, the guy is easily distinguishable by having the most Essentially Lost stare out of the five on the back cover. I do empathize, of course.



Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Finally, God-like ballads are starting to roll in. They're getting sissier... and that's why we love 'em.

Best song: SURFER GIRL

Track listing: 1) Surfer Girl; 2) Catch A Wave; 3) The Surfer Moon; 4) South Bay Surfer; 5) The Rocking Surfer; 6) Little Deuce Coupe; 7) In My Room; 8) Hawaii; 9) Surfers Rule; 10) Our Car Club; 11) Your Summer Dream; 12) Boogie Woodie.

A whoppin' half a year in between albums - wake up, Capitol! - during which the guys had time to surf (not really), to tour (lots of that), to breed (who can blame them?), and, guess what, to write some more songs about surfboards, automobiles, and similar wonders of the modern world. They don't take any prisoners, either: check the track names from number 2 to number 5 in succession and then tell me you still don't get all those suckers complaining about how 'lightweight' the Beach Boys are. Okay, okay, so we haven't even gotten around to 1964 yet, so bear with it, suckers.

Now, their taking a little time did actually bring around several changes - changes that truly pre-herald the classic Beach Boys style to come. First, since they'd already reached mega-star status by the time (at least, as "mega" as a band of naive little lambs could under the circumstances), Capitol, without much reluctance, agreed to expand their budget - and thus they slowly start moving away from the typical four-piece band production to more intricate and complexly instrumentated arrangements. 'Surfer Moon', for instance, isn't much removed from preceding stuff like 'Lonely Sea', melodically, but is distinguished with lush orchestration (not exactly Phil Spector-style, but beefing the sound up substantially anyway) and strange occasional plucking... what's that? a harp? have the angels finally landed? well, not quite, but they're definitely starting to share some of the feathers. Elsewhere, you'll find a better pronounced keyboard sound, more organ solos, occasional chimes, and... well, no Coke bottles so far, but then, let's face it, if you got it all in 1963, what would you have left for 1966? 'Kokomo'?

Yet the main change, that sacred Point B which regularly makes you forget Point A, is the full arrival of Brian Wilson as the band's leading composer, arranger, and musical guru. It took a little time, but it paid off, and now he's so confident about his abilities that - hark! - there's but two instrumentals on the entire album this time around, not to mention no covers (apart from the instrumentals), no directly ripped off melodies (apart from the instrumentals), and no terribly bad songs (apart from the instrumentals). Instead, there are some terribly GOOD songs! 'Surfer Girl' and 'In My Room' used to confuse me by having the same time signature, but the melodies are actually different, and they are, quite justly, placed among the greatest ballads Brian ever wrote. Superb vocal harmonies are undeniable, but it's the disarming simplicity and at the same time emotional brilliance of 'Surfer Girl' that's the main thing about it; and as for 'In My Room', like many have noted before, it features wonderfully mature and thoughtful lyrics for a 1963 pop song (coincidence - the Beatles hit the same theme of self-isolation and compassion on 'There's A Place', their only "non-love" original song in 1963!) The only thing that mars the effect is the already mentioned similarity between these two and the third ballad, 'Your Summer Dream', where rhythm section is concerned. This kind of thing they yet had to outgrow.

These are the record's most heartfelt and inspiring songs; but that doesn't mean that the rest is as dismissable as could have been expected (not that I did expect the rest to be dismissable - it's you, my naughty reader, who keeps thinking in stereotypes and chastising everything that doesn't happen to have the Dylan-approved seal of worthiness on it! Me, I have already outgrown stereotypes in music. I now prefer to find stereotypes in reader reactions. Now, just how many flames have I deserved for this outburst of insolence?). They're simply not too different in spirit from whatever came before: just one more handful of funny fast surf-'n'-drive tunes, ranging from tolerable filler to respectable professionalism and occasionally moving beyond even that.

Tolerable filler includes stuff like 'South Bay Surfer' and 'Surfers Rule', songs that were obviously written with the sole intent of providing that slice of LA population with a couple more anthems into their backpack, so as to justify one of the vaguest, silliest, anti-Puritanest hobbies of all time. Mike Love wrote the lyrics for the latter, and Al Jardine (if I read the credits correctly) for the former, so you can more or less predict the results, but fortunately, Brian was at the wheel full time, so the effect on both is "innocent fun" rather than "dumb obnoxiousness". 'Surfers Rule' is even convincingly catchy, so that you can honestly enjoy it even without a good understanding of the difference between 'surfers' and 'hodads'; I must, however, take objection to beginning any song with an accappella chanting of the line 'it's a genuine fact that the surfers rule'. Might as well sing a Coca-Cola theme song. 'South Bay Surfer' nearly ruins everything with its idiotic bass vocal about how they're gonna 'take the big one', but that's the song's main faux pas and apart from that, it's just silly cheer-up filler.

And all the silly cheer-up filler is richly compensated for by respectable professionalism! (Occasionally moving even beyond that). 'Catch A Wave' - meatless, but pleasant; note the inventiveness with the vocal harmonies (the endless "waaah-woooh-waaaah-woooh-waaaah" which really creates sort of an "undulating" feeling) and the graceful organ touch at the end of each chorus. 'Little Deuce Coupe' - Brian's collaboration with Roger Christian, again, slightly pushed back by a generic instrumental melody/arrangement, but unbeatable in its catchiness all the same. 'Our Car Club' - "monster" arrangement on that one, with a brass section and something else hacking away in the background, can't really discern it. And occasionally moving even beyond that, you have 'Hawaii', which is also primarily just an "ad" song for a cool surfin' place, but who cares when you have this totally amazing falsetto from Brian? Apparently, these guys can be "gorgeous" and "upbeat" at the same time, combining a fast driving beat (crazy percussion on here - don't think it's Dennis behind the drums, though) with angelic harmonies.

So what's the balance now? As I said, the major improvement is in the ballads department - it took three albums for Brian to pen 'Surfer Girl' and 'In My Room', and if you wanna start the actual countdown to Pet Sounds you probably should begin here. Particularly with 'In My Room', which, with a little bit more studio sophistication and maybe a wee bit more depth in the lyrics, would have made a nice addition to Pet Sounds, totally fitting in with its introspectiveness, spirituality, and slight tinge of melancholia.

Apart from that, Surfer Girl represents the peak and the final stop of the Beach Boys as Idols of Surf; it does have an almost unusually high amount of surf-dedicated songs, even for the Boys, but it's their last album that does. In fact, the surfing subject is all but wiped out on subsequent records! Cruising will still remain an important subject for several albums to come, and girls and beaches will be most prominent, but - no surfing! Which probably goes to show just how much the lads actually did care for the practice in the first place. It's hardly a coincidence that the next time the word "surf" is gonna re-surf-ace in the band's repertoire will be a grand six years later, in 'Do It Again' - the song that Mike Love so hoped would bring back the good old days of fun, innocence, and youthful pleasure-seeking (not to mention big bucks). Not that it did.



Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

It may be the artsiest and grandest car commercial ever done... but it's still a car commercial.


Track listing: 1) Little Deuce Coupe; 2) Ballad Of Ole Betsy; 3) Be True To Your School; 4) Car Crazy Cutie; 5) Cherry Cherry Coupe; 6) 409; 7) Shut Down; 8) Spirit Of America; 9) Our Car Club; 10) No-Go Showboat; 11) A Young Man Is Gone; 12) Custom Machine.

Now, some of these early (and not only early) Beach Boy records may not say much in the "art" department, but if you wanna have a crash course in the commercial techniques of Sixties' record industry without having to stoop particularly low, you can't go wrong with albums like these. Taking a gamble upon the buyer's readiness to procure anything that had the B. B. moniker on it, Capitol went ahead and released this almost 'conceptual' album, almost completely dedicated to that particular invention of Homo Sapiens that prevented him from drowning in the side products of Aequus Caballus or whatever the proper Latin name for that species should be. Go cherry cherry coupe now!

No surfing, thank God, but writing twelve new songs about four wheel pleasures in a matter of two months or so was hardly any more comfortable; hence, the main disadvantage - four of the perpetual twelve songs are shamelessly pulled over from earlier albums - namely, the title track, 'Shut Down', 'Our Car Club' (from Surfer Girl) and even the by now 'golden oldie' '409' all get transferred on here. Which leaves you with eight original songs and about sixteen or seventeen minutes of original music in total - for full price! And whenever I think that the regular customer has to buy this for the same sum with which he could buy, say, seventy-seven minutes worth of Live At Leeds (!!!), I just can't escape the feeling that something truly does not compute in this mad, mad, mad world of ours. (Note: the 2-fer reissue CDs pair this with All Summer Long - a cruel move, that, as you thus have one of the most dispensable Beach Boys records on one disc with one of the most essential; that said, it certainly was out of the question for the smart guys at Capitol to respect chronological requirements and join it with Surfer Girl, because they'd have to write long apologetic passages explaining why the heck are 'Our Car Club' and 'Little Deuce Coupe' placed twice on one CD! Instead, it's forgive and forget, I guess).

In any case, we're not gonna speak about the "oldies" here (although it is interesting to note how '409', despite the melody still preserving its charm, already sounds light years beyond their then-current successes). As for the newer ones, they don't display much progress - "progress" doesn't happen overnight, which is probably close to the exact span of time all of them had to be written in - but in late '63, Brian Wilson already had displayed enough talent to hold a daytime job at Tin Pan Alley, and most of this stuff, workmanlike as it is, is fairly listenable. Since the album's subject matter had to be so rigidly stabilized, there's obviously no space for any lyrical discoveries (unless you think Roger Christian's brand of automotive metaphor deserves special mention, which it probably does, so I mention it, but can't bring myself to move beyond that), but the melodies, as usual, are zhen lihai, as the occasional Chinaman could have said.

The James Dean tribute 'A Young Man Is Gone', for instance, marks a first, having the band sing accapella for the first time - not in the primeval world of Surfin' Safari could you ever witness them daring something like that. It's technically a rewriting of Bobby Troup's 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring' (a track the Boys would later appropriate in its original version as well), but if ever there was such a thing as The Beach Boys Spirit, it's firmly incrusted into this song. 'Spirit Of America' has Brian embracing his newly-found falsetto once again - not nearly as distinctive as on 'Hawaii', but still quite decent. And songs like 'Car Crazy Cutie' and 'Cherry Cherry Coupe' really demonstrate their brave advances into the world of pure pop: they aren't exactly 'pop rockers', rather a curious amalgamation of their soaring ballad harmonies with the steady, punchy beat of the early brave singles.

The chorus of 'Cherry Cherry Coupe' is quintessential pop brilliance - a style that probably spawned thousands of imitators, all of which based their entire careers of penning innumerable tunes all based on the same 'go cherry-cherry coupe now'-style harmonies. (Not that the Beach Boys themselves didn't borrow these harmonies - I don't know the exact prototype, but I suppose a little rummaging through Phil Spector's backpack would help). And 'Car Crazy Cutie' has an amazingly complex vocal arrangement - far more advanced than anything they did before. Yeah, they're also going the well-familiar 'da doo ron ron' routine on there, but they're bringing it up to new levels, doncha know.

Yet on the flipside you're left with more and more perfunctory workmanship. 'Ballad Of Ole' Betsy' may be admired for Christian's inventive likening of the ever-present automobile to a respectable young lady (and it's a good thing the lyrics advance no further than 'Betsy's growing old' because I'd hate to learn what happens to the formerly respectable young lady next), but it's basically 'Your Summer Dream' made into even more generic doo-wop. 'No-Go Showboat' and 'Custom Machine' sound more like a Beach Boys tribute band than the real stuff: formally, everything is in its right place, including Brian's falsetto, Mike's whining, hip rhythms, etc., but neither of the two even has a "central hook".

And then there's the controversial affair of 'Be True To Your School' - a song whose melodic qualities don't fail to escape me (the vocal melody in the chorus is arguably the most inspired on the entire album), but whose basic atmosphere and lyrics are so trite, shallow, and, worse of all, so firmly emphasize the "flat American stereotype", that I'd much rather recommend a Karaoke version for you, whoever you are. You may be true to your school if you wish, boys, but leave to us the right to be (or not to be) true to ours, without the generic brain-muddling preaching. Save that stuff for cheerleaders and such (pseudo-cheerleaders actually do appear in the single version of the song, tacked as a bonus to the two-fer). It's this kind of sissy crap, of course, that was to lie the heaviest on the boys' account when they would be ostracized from the "cool" musical world of the mid-Sixties. In a matter of but three years, singing about being true to your school would be the equivalent of humming Havah Negeilah in front of the Reichstag - the main difference being that the latter would be an act of foolish bravery, while the former would simply be a foolish act. Not that the Beach Boys actually did perform the song live after 1964 (not to my knowledge), but then there was always more where that one came from.

In retrospect, Little Deuce Coupe was far from the only "dirty twist" of Capitol, but it set the precedent of the "superfluous Beach Boys album", and encouraged Capitol to issue more of those after it became a huge chart success (outdoing even Surfer Girl, probably because the two were released almost simultaneously and, as popular as the surfing craze could have been, surfing could never outbeat cruising for all the young people endowed with the 'Spirit Of America'). And, unlike latter "extra" releases (Party!, Stack-o-Tracks, etc.), this one doesn't even have "novelty" or "oddity" value: just eight more or less perfunctory and mostly expendable tracks, which is why I probably like it the least of all Capitol pranks.



Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

More and more demonstrations of oncoming greatness... so the filler is even MORE annoying than before.

Best song: FUN FUN FUN

Track listing: 1) Fun Fun Fun; 2) Don't Worry Baby; 3) In The Parkin' Lot; 4) "Cassius" Love Vs. "Sonny" Wilson; 5) The Warmth Of The Sun; 6) This Car Of Mine; 7) Why Do Fools Fall In Love; 8) Pom Pom Play Girl; 9) Keep An Eye On Summer; 10) Shut Down Part II; 11) Louie Louie; 12) Denny's Drums.

Looking at all the great material already recorded by the Beach Boys by early 1964 - or, actually, filtering that great material through the deep sea of filler - it's hard not to believe that the band had already reached its melody-writing/vocal-harmony-arranging peak. Is there a pop-rocker in the band's catalog that'd amount to a higher level than the first song on this record? Or a ballad that'd go for a significantly higher level of spirituality than the second song on this record? Not really. In terms of raw genius, the plank has been reached and crossed. Now, however, they had an extra job to do - to implement their obvious talent on record the way that'd truly befit an outstanding band. And with Capitol's requirements, being still hard pressed to release a new record every few months, they were still creatively stifled. Inspiration may come in flashes, true enough; but deep arrangements and clever production take time.

However, at this point, in between constant touring and constant sessionwork, even the inspiration flashes were hard to come by in sufficient numbers. This is why Shut Down Vol. 2 (for the record, the 'original' Shut Down was a multiple-artist car song compilation, released without the Boys' knowledge at all) sets the annoying trend of compensating for the lack of prime material with one or two tracks that don't even have anything to do with music in the first place. Yep, I mostly mean that load of "locker-room humour" (the liner notes' author's euphemism for "moronic juvenile crap") called "'Cassius' Love Vs. "Sonny" Wilson', where for three and a half minutes (longest track on the album, no less!) Mike and Brian stage a "humorous" "contest", with each one accusing the other of poor singing - snippets of songs like 'Little Deuce Coupe' or 'Farmer's Daughter' being interrupted by an endless set of five-year-old-worthy mockeries, the smartest of them amounting to something like 'well, at least I don't sound like Mickey Mouse with a sore throat!'. Oh, yeah, it's nice to know that it was one of the first "intentional self-putdowns" on record, and it's nice to see the boys not thinking too much of themselves and all, but please... it ain't funny, see? It's a far, far, far prequel to Mike Love's corny "unfunny" jokes on the band's live albums. For my money, the "non-musical" tracks on the following two albums are at least somewhat more tolerable because they don't try so hard to put their being funny in front of our faces.

There's plenty of other misfires - ill-conceived idea after ill-conceived idea, and all this at such a risky time, when the Beatles were successfully toppling the Beach Boys' status as teen idols premier! 'Denny's Drums', I guess, could also be called one of the first, if not the first, 'drum instrumental' on a rock album, but Dennis Wilson ain't no Ginger Baker (heck, he ain't even a Bill Ward), and I guess you can learn that drumming technique he displays in the track in a matter of a couple weeks of training, so what the...? The cover of 'Louie Louie', which the Beach Boys unfortunately could not evade (nobody would take you seriously if you didn't do a 'Louie Louie' cover those days), is stiff, unfunny, and uncomfortable, and it's easy to see why - this type of material simply wasn't fit for a Beach Boys treatment. I mean, what, singing the lyrics so you can actually understand them? What a bunch of nonsense.

To all this we should probably add the somewhat more questionable bits of doo-wop filler, only interesting from a historical point of view ('Why Do Fools Fall In Love' - the band's earliest attempt at a piece of Phil Spector-ish wall-of-sound production, but hardly interesting per se), or just not interesting at all ('In The Parkin' Lot', with a very uncomfortable melodic seam between the 'heavenly' slow cascades of vocal harmonies and the upbeat Love vocal melody - which also, as it seems, merely copies 'Fun Fun Fun'). Dennis gets a quirky lead vocal on 'This Car Of Mine', but that sure ain't enough to give this "should have been a dusty outtake from Little Deuce Coupe" thingie any more character, either.

The overall result is that Shut Down Vol. 2 is easily the most "tormented" album out of the Beach Boys' early period, the one where the disbalance between filler and genius is not just obvious, it's actually SCREAMING. Because nothing could be further away from the idiocy of 'Cassius Love' or the complete pointlessness of 'Denny's Drums' than the brilliance of the album's two opening numbers, Beach Boys' classics for the ages. 'Fun Fun Fun' is, of course, the ultimate cruising song, and arguably the band's highest achievement in the car genre (only surpassed by 'I Get Around', perhaps, but that song is bigger than just a 'car song', if you know what I mean). Here we are finally introduced to the band's complex harmony-weaving process in all of its glory, with two- and three-part layering and overdubbing and one part "chasing" after the other and all, which must have been really mind-blowing at the time, and in a certain way, still is. We can even forgive the boys for expropriating the 'Johnny B. Goode' intro for the song, can we? It fits right in!

The second classic is Brian's first attempt to write a ballad that would transgress the purely "intimate" stage and border on the "anthemic" - I mean, the progression between 'Surfer Girl'/'In My Room' and this one is obvious, as Brian skips the usual perfunctory chord progressions of the former (which instrumentally were just standard doo-wop territory) and tries to create something with the far more sophisticated Phil Spector formula; 'Don't Worry Baby' was his intentional tribute/sequel to Phil's 'Be My Baby' (and in terms of catchiness, I think, actually beats the master). In fact, the wonderfully "rounded" pattern of the vocal melody is so irresistible that it was subconsciously (or consciously - who can tell now?) ripped-off by John Lennon a whole sixteen years later for 'Starting Over' - which is more than mere coincidence, because Double Fantasy is, in fact, very close spiritually to the classic Brian Wilson vibe if you think about it.

Nothing beats these two, but you only have to endure the torture of Cassius Love to get to some more raffinated beauty. 'The Warmth Of The Sun' rises above average doo-wop with a really complex vocal melody and absolutely ethereal harmony arrangements; where 'Don't Worry Baby' speaks to God in terms of bombast, this song speaks in terms of humility, yet gives a feeling of depth and conviction that's far more evident than on, say, 'Spirit Of America'. As for 'Keep An Eye On Summer', it's like 'Warmth Of The Sun' re-written with less complex vocal arrangements but with more emphasis on catchiness; unlike the latter, its lyrics clearly target it for the Sissy Schoolboy, but if you have no respect for the Sissy Schoolboy, you probably won't have anything to do with the Beach Boys anyway. You gotta have respect for the Sissy Schoolboy, you know. When all is said and done, this land belongs to the Sissy Schoolboy.

That wasn't a HUGE amount of highlights, was it? But on the other hand, at least this album's got goddamn character. This ridiculous alteration of immensely high and immensely low points says one thing to me: LIFE. It works as an enjoyable record, it works as a living document of its era, it's cool, even if not necessarily in the positive sense. And since it's pretty futile for me to try and evade all kinds of Beatles references and comparisons, I won't even try; the way I see it, I see a freshly ignited spark here, and I have little doubt who was the cause of this ignition. It may be Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson on this one, but it'd be Cassius McCartney from now on.

Note that if you get the two-fer CD with Surfer Girl, you'll have three bonus tracks - the single version of 'Fun Fun Fun', which is ten seconds longer (awesome!); the German version of 'In My Room', which is ten times cornier (at least 'Sie Liebt Dich' was funny!); and the demo version of 'I Do', which is ten times better than the Castells version (not that I ever heard the Castells version - I've just been bribed by Capitol to promote their two-fers, don't you know).



Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

This one captures the whole surf thing within a nutshell, all the best sides of it.

Best song: I GET AROUND

Track listing: 1) I Get Around; 2) All Summer Long; 3) Hushabye; 4) Little Honda; 5) We'll Run Away; 6) Carl's Big Chance; 7) Wendy; 8) Do You Remember?; 9) Girls On The Beach; 10) Drive-In; 11) Our Favourite Recording Sessions; 12) Don't Back Down.

And the inevitable Beatles comparisons just keep coming - catch another one: All Summer Long is the Beach Boys' Hard Day's Night, an album that provides a perfect summary for the guys' first-period "sweet and innocent" state (well, maybe not so innocent, considering some of the band members' heavy sexual schedules, but you can't at least deny that they were screwing all of their partners based on completely innocent motivation!) The kind of glossy shiny simplistic pop perfection that makes grumpy people reach for their ELP albums, grumpier people for their Miles Davis, and still grumpier people for their Old Chinese qin classics, but if you ain't too grumpy, like me, it merely makes you hold your breath and wait - can the band 'top' this perfection by further branching out into unknown territory or will the band get stuck in this early Sixties mood forever? The Beach Boys could; but this doesn't mean that All Summer Long cannot be treated as a career peak of sorts in any case.

It's not radically different from the previous albums; it just acquires a level of technical and - should I say it? - inspirational perfection that, say, Surfer Girl could only dream of. First of all, there's not a single bad song on here, if you'll exclude the obligatory filler silliness of 'Our Favorite Recording Sessions', a track which just captures the guys poking fun around the studio for a few moments to give the album a "vivacious" feel, I guess - at least, that is probably the way that Capitol executives would explain its reason for existence while leisurely digesting all the caviar. Yes, another little prick here - when it comes to the Beatles, we can only witness that sort of historically relevant, but aurally unexciting crap on the Anthologies series, which is where it naturally belongs.

Apart from that, though, All Summer Long is undeniably the band's most consistent release to-date, which is all the more amazing considering that 1964 was probably the busiest, frenziest, most heated year ever for Brian Wilson: he was still constantly touring with the band, and in between all the public activity had to find quite a bit of time to throw out hit single after hit single and then rush back into the studio and write and arrange more for the band's albums - three more studio offerings and a live recording all in one year. True, out of these four, only All Summer Long stands out as a big achievement, but you try this kind of work rhythm! And this at a time when your buddies get all the girls!

Second, there's a good deal of diversity. No radically different stylistic ideas, because they'd done all those types of songs before, but you get everything, from surf instrumentals (only one, fortunately!) to doo-wop ballads to Berry-esque rockers to lush orchestrated pop stuff, with increasingly complex arrangements and vocal harmonies. Even the lyrics seem to have undergone some kind of maturation - check out, for instance, the cute teenage sentiment description on 'We'll Run Away' and I'm sure you'll all be reminiscent of something similar you could have undergone in your earliest years. (At the very least, it definitely sounds far more natural than 'Keep An Eye On Summer').

In all, All Summer Long is just about THE ultimate surf-pop album ever put out by anybody in the genre. Even the album cover is nice - the quintessential monolithic picture of them Beach Boys stupidly and unconvincingly fondling their surfboard out on the beach is replaced by a 'set-of-events' type of things, further adding colourfulness and conveying a sense of joy (and mystery - for instance, just how many of the girls pictured on the cover had to... well, you know?).

The major highlights on the album have sort of acquired an anthemic status for American pop culture, although the same may be false for respectable representatives of the world's other civilizations - so, in case you come from my side of the Atlantic and are ignorant about the driving power of 'I Get Around', a track that was the Beach Boys' first #1 on the singles' charts and deservedly so (actually managing to overthrow the Beatles for a while!), let me remind you that practically all about it, starting from Mike Love's typically sneering rock'n'rollish vocals on the verses and ending with Brian's soaring falsetto on the chorus, is impeccable, and that if the expression "really revs up" is applicable to a pop song in the first place, 'I Get Around' would be the first song to apply it to - because it really revs up!

'Little Honda' is only slightly less impressive, and am I the only one to hear faint signs of the upcoming Pet Sounds masterpiece 'Here Today' in the song's "first gear, second gear" chorus? Plus, it's a song about a motorbike, and I guess that can be judged as some kind of progression, too. Getting realistic, skipping from Cherry Cherry Coupe to Little Honda, you know. Even the 'lesser' rockers are fun - the naive rock'n'roll ode 'Do You Remember?' shouldn't really be off-putting (in any case, it's hardly any more stupid than the giddy patriotic ode 'Be True To Your School', right?). The main problem here, I suppose, lies in 'Do You Remember?' not being particularly inventive, but I guess neither was 'Surfin' USA', and it's still fun.

And am I right when I say I do see a certain irony about the lyrics to 'Drive-In'? What about lines like "don't sneak your buddies in the trunk 'cause they might get caught by the drive in, and they'd look kinda stupid gettin' chased through the lot around the drive in"? Heh - these guys really know how to go from formulaic sappiness to rough realistic pictures. But never mind, the harmony arrangements are still the best thing about the song. Perhaps the only problem with both 'Drive-In' and 'Do You Remember?' is that there's too much Mike Love about them and too little Brian Wilson; then again, it's not exactly nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-eight we're talking here, so I guess that can be forgiven.

But wait, I haven't yet badmouthed the ballads. Stinkin' teenage tripe, of course, offensive brainless commercial pop-slop ditties that should be repugnant to every person with at least a tiny bit of intelligence and self-respect and utter despisal for all people without said qualities. Total genius, too, particularly on the lonesome Peter Pan aria 'Wendy', one of the catchiest songs of the whole lot, and the title track, their most pretentious and anthemic song ever about the glories of the year's hottest season; in a way, 'I Get Around' is kinda like a "preview" of the album (the hit single), while 'All Summer Long' announces us the 'concept' - and in a pretty upbeat and joyous way, as expected. 'Girls On The Beach' is not very interesting, obviously written by Brian in such a hurry he'd forgotten that almost the same vocal melody had already been present on 'Surfer Girl', but at least technically it's still a big improvement. 'Hushabye' and 'We'll Run Away', in the meantime, provide us with more examples of Brian's genius in harmony arrangements - sorry for being repetitive, but a spade is a spade - and since great harmony arrangements can't really be described, I'll just shut up on that subject. As a bonus, I'll say that 'Carl's Big Chance' is their best surf instrumental up to that point. Oh, wait, it's not theirs. It's ripped off of 'Can I Get A Witness', and the Rolling Stones did the instrumental version better on their debut album. Shame on you Carl: you had your big chance and you blew it. Whatever, it's still a nice little intermission in between all the ballads.

Important technical notes: (a) there's only one cover on the entire album, which is 'Hushabye', and, unlike in the case of all their previous cover versions, I can't imagine the original actually sounding better - the song is 100% Beach Boys now; (b) all the external collaborators are gone, with most of the songs credited to Wilson/Love or just solo Wilson. Not that I believe Roger Christian or Gary Usher in any way hampered the band's development - rather the contrary, in fact - but surely the band's being able to become almost completely self-reliable (and that includes also their getting freed from the clutches of Dad Murry Wilson) was a positive factor, too.



Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Well, the Beach Boys audience doesn't outscream the Beatles audience, but that way, at least you can hear better.

Best song: I GET AROUND

Track listing: 1) Fun Fun Fun; 2) The Little Old Lady From Pasadena; 3) Little Deuce Coupe; 4) Long Tall Texan; 5) In My Room; 6) Monster Mash; 7) Let's Go Trippin'; 8) Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow; 9) The Wanderer; 10) Hawaii; 11) Graduation Day; 12) I Get Around; 13) Johnny B. Goode.

When it comes to Beach Boys Concert (not to be confused with the ten-years-later In Concert; ever looked for a good example of the importance of prepositions? look no further!), there are three prevailing attitudes. Number one: this is merely another one in a series of flashing cash-ins from Capitol, always on the lookout for more ways of making money out of nothing, and thus should be avoided at all costs. Number two: this is an interesting historical document in that it is one of the earliest available live albums from the early rock'n'roll Sixties (in my collection, it is the earliest) - no British Invasion band had a live album recorded in '64, after all - and so should be reserved for scientific-minded Sixties aficionados. Number three: this is just a groovy, fun album capturing the Boys at the height of their 'early level' popularity and in peak live form, with Brian Wilson still together with the band on stage.

Well, as long as it's just opinion and not recommendation, all of them are right. It's just that nobody said cash-ins can't be historically important, just like nobody said you can never sincerely enjoy a historical document of a cash-in. Because I honestly can, and do - in spite of all the teenage screaming and generally awful sound. (To be fair, the 1990 Capitol edition of this album, which pairs it with Live In London and which is the one I have, seriously cleans up said sound, although rumours have it that the latest Capitol reissue cleans it up even more - who knows, maybe you'll be luckier than me and actually be able to tell me if Al Jardine's really playing rhythm or they're just faking it). And while we're at it, might I actually remind that there's still far less screaming here than during any live Beatles performance of the era: put on Hollywood Bowl and you'll see the screaming doesn't stop or diminish for even a second, while on this record you can obviously hear the gals actually slow down at times! They do, in fact, hear when the rhythm section comes in, or when the boys start singing serious harmonies, because that's where the scream level rises, only to drop down a few bars later. Sometimes the band actually gets the audience to clap along, or to shout 'let's go trippin'!' at the required moment. Guess that proves the Beach Boys weren't nearly as HOT... but on the other hand, it also makes up for a more discernible listen. Whoever said bigger was better? Let's hear it for the Wilsons!

In the end, it all depends on the attitude. What I hear on this album, cash-in or not, is that the Beach Boys actually delivered on stage - putting on an energetic, funny and uplifting show which occasionally degenerated into something too juvenile, but normally was quite tasteful in its own rights. And besides, even if we concede that this kind of show was the early Sixties' equivalent of today's MTV romps for teenagers, just FEEL THE FRIGGIN' DIFFERENCE! Me, I'll take the bubblegummy entertainment of 1964 over the bubblegummy entertainment of today without raising an eye. Yeah, guess that's what the spread of filthy Democrat-stimulated anti-moral values will do to a planet. Now the world needs a 'Long Tall Texan' to bring back its glory!

Okay, we all know the Beach Boys weren't awesome instrumentalists. You can see Al missing out on at least half of Chuck Berry's notes in the 'Johnny B. Goode' intro - which he, on the other hand, compensates with terrific speed and an almost weird sense of total dedication to the material, as if he were trying to channel the spirit of proto-punk or something! But they had enough chops to deliver a fast groove and not let it fall apart, and have all their harmonies in fine form at the same time, and really, you can't ask much more from a band like the Beach Boys in 1964. And there's no reason whatsoever to doubt their absolute commitment either.

Add to this that the setlist is pretty unpredictable; either the Beach Boys didn't learn to perform enough of their own original material by the time of this recording (which, by the way, took place at the Civic Auditorium, Sacramento, in August '64), or those responsible for the compilation just decided to give the fans more previously unavailable material, but anyway, for every original on here you get yourself a cover version - covers which range from country-blues to rockabilly to (mostly) doo-wop standards of the time. They're good covers, too, if you're willing to overlook the "idiocy" of the material, as some might call it: sure a song like 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow' will never save the world from evil, but it can provide you with a clear fresh sparkling exhilarating laugh for two minutes, and if you ask me, that's almost as good (and far more realistic, too).

Then there's bluesy stuff like the obscure 'Long Tall Texan' (which gives Mike the opportunity to wail in that grossly exaggerated accent and give a few beeps on his saxophone which he apparently barely knew how to play) and the Dennis vocal spotlight 'The Wanderer', which sounds like the main inspiration for 'Little Deuce Coupe' (also on here! can compare! Dennis can't sing worth crap! But neither could Ringo when he was holding his drumsticks at the same time!); the cute doo-wopster 'Little Old Lady From Pasadena', a hit for Beach Boys concurrents Jan and Dean; the stupid, so bad it's almost good 'Monster Mash'; and that 'Johnny B. Goode' cover, absolutely rip-roaring by Beach Boys standards (and far, far more rockin' out than all that "hard rock" crap like 'Student Demonstration Time' they later tried to introduce into their act), but suffering from a couple problems, like an unexplainable dropping of the third verse - the song ends right after the solo - and totally abysmal sound quality even by this record's standards; you can barely hear Mike singing at all, which actually raises the question of how much singing on the other numbers was actually overdubbed in the studio. The only detestable cover is 'Graduation Day', not so much because of the melody but because I friggin' hate "be true to your school" stuff anthems. Besides, it's kinda generic and slow.

As for the originals, they're all performed fine and dandy, not at all different from the studio (well, of course, they have to make minor adjustments like eliminating the keyboard solo in 'Fun Fun Fun' and suchlike) - what's there to be said? Nothing, except that the audience screaming, in some cases, actually serves to pump up the enjoyment level. Yes, and Mike Love's proverbially inane sense of humour (or, to be more exact, sense of dishumour) is already starting to show up; it looks like he's outbetting himself on each of the following songs he announces, reaching a culmination in the stupefyingly dumb "school monologue" before 'Graduation Day'. But never you mind, it doesn't look way too obnoxious, not on the level of Live In London certainly. Guess the longer your beard grows, the more self-assured you become, even if you shouldn't.

And the album cover looks great too! If you don't stare at it too closely, it almost looks like Mike Love recoils in fear, about to get collectively whacked by all the guitarists!

Who knows how things would turn out...



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

New levels of artistic maturity with no particularly new means to achieve it - which is all the more awesome.


Track listing: 1) Do You Wanna Dance; 2) Good To My Baby; 3) Don't Hurt My Little Sister; 4) When I Grow Up (To Be A Man); 5) Help Me Rhonda; 6) Dance Dance Dance; 7) Please Let Me Wonder; 8) I'm So Young; 9) Kiss Me Baby; 10) She Knows Me Too Well; 11) In The Back Of My Mind; 12) Bull Session With "Big Daddy".

The Beach Boys, like all normal human beings, preferred to evolve gradually rather than in Kubrick-like mega-moves, and yet Today! is certainly a huge progression from their earlier stuff. Might as well, in fact, be the major departure - for the first time, you get the feeling that Brian Wilson is starting to take things more seriously than it used to be before. It's not the first "conceptually cohesive" record in the Beach Boys catalog; in fact, conceptual-wise, All Summer Long and even Little Deuce Coupe had a far more cohesive feel to them, but it's the first time that a Beach Boys record gets to be cohesive through something a bit deeper and, to borrow a term from grumpier old men for a sec, more "mature" than hot summer days, surfboards and automobiles. Of course, neither can it be said that it's the first Beach Boys record to feature "serious" recordings - 'In My Room' preceded this stuff by a good year and a half, but it's the first Beach Boys record to venture into the 'serious stuff' openly and deliberately instead of just shyly treading water.

I am, of course, speaking of the album's second side - the famous "five-ballad suite" that's never interrupted by no stupid shallow pop-rockers, and in this way certainly presages the peaceful paradise of Pet Sounds. Now to be frank, I can't say that any of these five songs are immaculate chef-d'oeuvres. It's obvious that Brian spent a bit more time working on them than usual; since his resignment from touring, he'd found himself more free time and more space to experiment and to express his inner feelings (and to roll a quick joint every now and then, too, although Today! still displays absolutely no traces of that activity whatsoever). However, time takes time, and so far there are only vague hints at all kinds of new experimental approaches he'd be taking a year later. In other words, any of these ballads could have easily fit on All Summer Long - they're hardly better than 'Hushabye' or 'We'll Run Away' (and 'I'm So Young', by the way, continues the lyrical topic of 'We'll Run Away' to a tee!).

The trick, then, is that they're all grouped together - and that they're less formulaic than before, driven by Brian's desire to express feelings rather than the usual commercial needs. Even Mike Love seems to have sensed that, and, having now permanently replaced Usher and the rest as Brian's lyrical sidekick ("permanently" here being synonymous to "for a whole year"), huffs and puffs to produce lyrics that aspire towards the Philosophical and the Poetic, culminating with the totally untrivial - for the time - lyrical approach of 'In The Back Of My Mind', where the protagonist has apparently got nothing to worry about but is still tormented by some abstract fear that his love might not turn out to be eternal. The biggest advance, however, comes with the production, which is getting ever so more complex and Phil Spector-esque; it's almost as if Brian was so alleviated by the idea of not having to reproduce his own songs onstage any more that he let himself loose, in the process forgetting that the others actually still had to reproduce them. But hey, there's Bruce Johnston to take care of these things. Don't bother the true artist.

As for the melodies, 'Please Let Me Wonder' is my favourite - simply because the singing is the most angelic on the album. That's Carl taking lead - right? okay, wrong, they told me it's Brian, but I'm gonna continue anyway - and you can easily hear how this stuff leads directly into 'God Only Knows', and frankly speaking, I almost think that 'Please Let Me Wonder' might be the better song, unless one thinks that adding the word 'God' to a song immediately increases its artistic value ten times. Call me a jerk, but I actually insist that the best 'minor achievement' of this record had been in discovering this VOICE. Only a tinge away from generic boyband romantic tone, but that tinge means the world to me. 'She Knows Me Too Well' takes second place, with cute little 'she knows me... she knows me...' vocal harmonies adding a whole new dimension, not to mention Brian's falsetto that soars to new, unprecedented heights, again establishing one of the most major sonic elements on Pet Sounds. 'I'm So Young' is another great showcase for Brian; 'Kiss Me Baby' never impressed me that much, more of another average take on 'Surfer Girl' than anything major, but it does fit in with the rest of the "suite" pretty well; and Dennis' delivery on 'In The Back Of My Mind' almost ruins the entire experience because it's so wobbly... then again, maybe you're the one who abhors total perfection, and in that case the song might just be for you.

You may have understood from this paragraph - as good as Side 2 is, I'm frankly not overwhelmed with it, given the fact that most inclusions on Pet Sounds still top the quality of these tracks, aside from maybe 'Please Let Me Wonder'. It's an advancement and it's good songs and all, but the bad thing is, it's all too similar to the stuff that would be superior, so... So why a 9? Because of the amazing contrast with the first side, of course. Which magically and miraculously transforms this into the quintessential album for the Beach Boys - the first side is still the band at its fun surfin' games, the second side reeks of spirituality. Which one's your favourite? Predictable question, isn't it? Well, ashamed as I am, my favourite is STILL the first side, although I gotta admit that the second side might be objectively more valuable. Then again, it might be not. Let's get outta here before the wheel starts spinning.

Ahem. 'Do You Wanna Dance' totally rocks my boat, cover or no - it's as useless to protest against the song's unstoppable greatness as it is to deny that 'Jingle Bells' is a good Christmas song, and it's got the advantage of not being overplayed, too. 'Good To My Baby' is lightweight, but fun and memorable (I wonder if Mike Love ever hummed the tune to himself while taking his frustration out on his spouse, the hypocrite!). 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)', with its wonderful 'countdown', partially shares its melody with 'Then I Kissed Her', but don't let it bother you - instead, just dig in the marvelous duet between Mike and Brian. The only weak spot on the entire first side is 'Help Me Rhonda', and only because it's a weaker version than the single recording, included on Summer Days; particularly weird are the ugly volume shifts during the chorus, which I still can't figure out - is this some kind of problem with my CD copy or was this an intentional trick? If it's the latter, then this cold shower contrast between 'help me Rhonda help help me Rhonda' and then 'HELP ME RHONDA HELP HELP ME RHONDA' is easily the worst production trick Brian ever came up with.

But 'Dance Dance Dance'? Why, that might just be the best pop-rocker ever recorded by the boys. At the very least, it's totally on par with 'I Get Around' (there are melodic similarities between the two, too, but the vocal harmonies seem to be more elaborate on here). If Brian's 'I gotta dance right on the spot' chants don't get you right on the spot, you're either tonedeaf, a Throbbing Gristle fan, or Gene Simmons, too busy doing some cheap broad from high society to get a real life and recognize true genius when you see it. There's an alternate mix on the twofer-CD among the bonus tracks, which lets you see all the intricacies of the process of getting a classier production - the crispy bass intro of the final version is just sooo cooler than the "normal" intro on the older mix; and yet, most certainly an absolute majority of then current bands would have easily satisfied themselves with the 'simpler' version, and get a hit with it, too. Great surf guitar solo as well, almost bordering on a rock'n'rollish feeling, although, of course, the song has no real need for a rock'n'rollish feeling. So I said it was "bordering"!

In all senses, Today! is a transitional album, but in all the best senses of the word: both sides are fully competent and enjoyable, and I suppose there's no better place to start with the Beach Boys catalog if you wanna get to the core of the band from the very beginning. In fact, many a-person I've verbally duelled with about the Beach Boys prefers this to Pet Sounds as his favourite, and I totally get that attitude - except that I'd never be able to share it since the second side is notably inferior to the average quality of PS songs, and the album wouldn't get too far away on the first side alone. Besides, did I yet note that the record finishes on a total letdown with yet another bit of chitter-chatter, this time an interview/banter of sorts called 'Bull Session With 'Big Daddy''? Sheez. Here they go showcasing their newly-found maturity and then you get brilliant quotes like "of all of Europe the only thing that stuck out in my mind is the bread". Imagine that.

Oh, okay, on second thought, if I were a permanent resident of California, I suppose I could empathize with that. But I sure ain't stuck on that. You don't hear me going around complaining that "of all of America the only thing that stuck out in my mind is the SHITTY AMERICAN BREAD!". Even if that's definitely one thing upon which we Russians have them Yanks upside down. :)



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Hey, if you wanted to know, the Beach Boys didn't first go "nostalgic" in 1976, nor even in 1969. 1965 is the correct answer!


Track listing: 1) The Girl From New York City; 2) Amusement Parks USA; 3) Then I Kissed Her; 4) Salt Lake City; 5) Girl Don't Tell Me; 6) Help Me Rhonda; 7) California Girls; 8) Let Him Run Wild; 9) You're So Good To Me; 10) Summer Means New Love; 11) I'm Bugged At My Ol' Man; 12) And Your Dream Comes True.

Compared to their previous whoppers like All Summer Night and Today! , this is a toss-off... so everyone says. And they got full documental proof to their claim, that's why they're making it. Capitol was putting so much heavy pressure on Brian to come up with product, product, and more product, that he was all but forced to scrap some of his more "serious" work in order to win more time for true creativity. Naturally, the final product ended up musically "obsolete" the day before it even hit the record shelves; look at the album sleeve and tell me it didn't really deserve being called The Beach Boys Yesterday! (Granted, that could have given rise to a popular suspicion that the Beach Boys actually prostituted themselves into releasing a record of Beatles covers, but then I'm pretty sure that 'Yesterday' was still 'Scrambled Eggs' by the time Summer Days came out. Besides, that didn't stop them from doing two Beatles covers later in the year).

There's one thing the naysayers really forget, though. When the Master is finding himself at the peak wave of his creative powers, he can turn a Burger King commercial into high art - let alone a set of summertime surfboard ditties. And with all the experience already garnered, Summer Days, though "formally" a toss-off, wouldn't be no Surfin' Safari for sure. There may be filler on this record, but it don't feel like filler: just because it's about surfing and kiddie fun in general doesn't mean that the songs cannot be phenomenal when it comes to catchy melodies and vocal harmonies. Besides, it just isn't true that the album is a complete retread: there are still a few minor surprises, a few major artistic breakthroughs, and, maybe most important of all - no stupid, time-filling, and artistically humiliating "banter track" at the end of the record.

Surprise number one arrives on track number seven - namely, the beautiful mini-symphony heard at the beginning of 'California Girls', which everybody knows to be a preshadowing of what would come next on Pet Sounds, although only a few unlucky losers (your humble servant included, along with Brian Wilson himself!) consider even better than whatever would come next on Pet Sounds. The main verse melody is so simple in its brilliancy that it's hard to believe in its very existence, and I'd bet you anything that if you didn't understand English you would easily mistake the heavenly chorus for an ardent hymn - instead of the sexist-nationalistic 'I wish they all could be California girls...'. But then again, scrap "sexist". 'California Girls' is really no longer merely a libidinous outburst, it's female-beauty-inspired art the same way classic nude paintings aren't merely an excuse for Renaissance aristocrats to jack off (although doubtless many of them have been used that way). And turning back to the "mini-symphony" - lasting all of 22 seconds - I'm not even sure that this kind of introduction had any true precedent in the pop-rock world. People would just launch into the melody right away, without wasting any of the song's precious three minutes on something so vaguely related to the main hook. In all seriousness, 'California Girls' should be considered a major milestone on the way to art-rock rather than a minor footnote. But hey, it's got the words 'tan', 'bikini', and 'hip' in it, so nah.

Surprise number two is Brian's solo spot on the exceedingly weird 'I'm Bugged At My Ol' Man' - an actual song that comes to replace 'Our Favourite Embarrassing Sessions' and 'Bullshit Session Financed By Those Assholes From Capitol'. Musically it's not important at all, but the lyrics are both hilarious, when you listen to them out of context, and sad, after you've learned the backstory of it all - Brian hysterically complaining about how his father won't let him go surfing or call up his chick and how he's sitting locked up in his home and growing a beard; all the time he's accompanied by nothing but a simple doo-woppy piano line, plus the other Boys add silly backing vocals from time to time (resulting in a rather goofy Elvis-like impression overall). Since Murray Wilson had been given the boot as the band's manager and self-appointed dictator for quite some time now, it's not surprising that somebody had finally given free reins to his emotions - perhaps in a way that was too vicious, but completely understandable. Goof factor aside, the song is firmly grounded in Brian's actual feelings and, again, is a major step towards complete artistic liberation.

That's just two big ideas, but if you can tolerate the idea of not achieving a musical revolution with every next song you write, Summer Days will provide you with a whole swarm of awesome numbers. 'Help Me Rhonda', updated from the limp, demo-like, and hideously produced version found on Today!, features arguably the most repetitive chorus in man's history, but the endless 'help me Rhonda help help me Rhonda' chanting is so upbeat and groovy, and Mike adds his low 'bow wow wow' counterparts in such an uplifting way that the effect can't help being ultimately marvelous. Then there's the Phil Spector cover 'Then I Kissed Her', immediately recognized and identified as a Phil Spector song through the 'pam - pa-dum bum bum - pa-dum bum bum' rhythm that, to the man, represented the equivalent of 'wizz wizz wizz whoosh whoosh whoosh' for Bing Crosby. The generic teenybopper lyrics almost make the song an embarrassment (they are way more sappy and banal and sludgey than the stuff Gary Usher was feeding Brian on), but that's Phil Spector for ya - Brian isn't responsible.

Yet another introspective ode ('Let Him Run Wild') features, indeed, one of the most 'wild' arrangement of vocal harmonies ever heard up to that point. The melody is more complex then usual, with rather unpredictable, confusing beat shifts; when the complex harmonies, the odd rhythms, and the brass-and-keyboards wall of sound come together, the effect is that of ably controlled sonic chaos, making the song a precursor to 'Good Vibrations'. Again, speaking in terms of the "getting closer to God" idea, 'Let Him Run Wild' with its ecstatic falsetto swooshes is statelier and more 'heavenly' than anything they'd done up to this point, although perhaps a bit too upbeat and fast to have fit well onto Pet Sounds. And, as if the regular songs weren't enough, they seem to offer you one last proof that they're now taking orders from the Old Man On High rather than the old man back at home on the final short accapella vocal spot 'And Your Dream Comes True'. Maybe it's not really worth listening to if you've already heard, umm, the 'Unreleased Backgrounds' on the Pet Sounds bonus, but otherwise, bow your head! A terrific 'document' of how tight, professional, and dedicated the dudes could be.

Even the songs that nobody ever remembers, the obvious throwaways, are salvageable. 'The Girl From New York City' is not very memorable, but never dull, rescued by a funny brass part and echoey harmonies that beat out the main verse melody; if encountered on any of the band's earliest surf albums, such songs would count as masterpieces. Here, they inevitably pale next to 'Help Me Rhonda' and 'California Girls', but look, if the entire album were filled with songs of that quality, I'd have to give it a 14 at least. Minor low points, for me, would include the instrumental 'Summer Means New Love' (more generic romantic movie stuff a la 'Ringo's Theme'), and probably 'Salt Lake City' (I'll refrain from ironic comments on that one because every single reviewer on the planet believes it to be his due to make a couple puns on behalf of the unfortunate song) - but what it actually boils down to is just the lyrics, as well as that annoying habit of taking the same verse melody and reusing it numerous times (here, I think, the blame falls on 'Little Honda').

However, if you're not in a hurry and are willing to give the record a couple more listens, you just might find some innocent pleasure in the cute little sax and organ passages on 'Amusement Parks USA' or in the 'Ticket To Ride'-ish vibe of 'Girl Don't Tell Me' - so they lifted that chorus off the Beatles, big deal; it's still better than rewriting their own material, not to mention that the Beach Boys, with all of their cultural background, are simply incapable of writing a "Beatlesong clone". Carl takes lead vocals here, and he does the job well - the song's one of these little hidden gems that don't jump out of you like that, all of a sudden. You have to wait for them to grab you.

Originally, I gave the record a 10, but that was sheepish pandering towards popular opinion. In fact, from a certain viewpoint, this, rather than Today!, might just be the Beach Boys' quintessential record - the last well-balanced album to represent all of their assets - light, medium, and heavyweight. If 'Amusement Parks USA' is so nineteen sixty-two of them, then 'Let Him Run Wild' is so nineteen sixty-six of them, and in between lies everything else. And finally, owning this record packed with Today! on a single CD means owning one of the five or six most awesomely rewarding listening experiences you can get out of this pop world of ours.



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

The closest this band ever came to recording the proverbial "album of fart noises". They're sweet fart noises, though.

Best song: BARBARA ANN

Track listing: 1) Hully Gully; 2) I Should Have Known Better; 3) Tell Me Why; 4) Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow; 5) Mountain Of Love; 6) You've Got To Hide Your Love Away; 7) Devoted To You; 8) Alley Oop; 9) There's No Other (Like My Baby); 10) I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe; 11) The Times They Are A-Changin'; 12) Barbara Ann.

Inevitably, the "nostalgia and forgiveness" factor has kicked in, and in recent years, Beach Boys Party! has undergone at least a partial critical re-evaluation. What was earlier seen, through the eyes of those who not only look but also judge, as nothing but yet another in a never-ending series of crass moves on the part of Capitol Records, today is occasionally hailed as something "unusual", "unprecedented", and even "fascinating". Okay, so I'm actually quoting the liner notes here, and we all know just how far we can trust glowing liner notes, but this is just because the booklet is lying here beside me and the Internet opinion are a couple googlisms away. I do know what I'm talking about here, believe you me.

From a strictly formal position, Party! is indeed "unusual" and "unprecedented" - and if these two are particularly important for you, I guess it can also be "fascinating" in that respect. There is, however, one important aspect in which it is anything but "unusual": it steadily followed the old trusty formula of putting more Beach Boys product, at no matter what expense, out for the buyers in time for Christmas. Since Brian had already yielded to the pressure once, cutting down work on Pet Sounds in order to briefly concentrate on something lighter and simpler, apparently the executives thought it wouldn't be a problem to get him to do it again. But recording another "throwaway" studio record was out of the question for Brian, and putting out another 'standard' live album would be superfluous (not to mention it wouldn't even be featuring Brian himself, with Bruce Johnston replacing him on tour).

Apparently the idea of a "musical party" belonged to Brian himself (who knows, maybe it was the only way he could get around to getting rid of the executive pressure - besides, crazy ideas were always Brian's forte in the first place). A bunch of friends would be invited into the studio to fake a party atmosphere, everything loose and informal and spontaneous and blah blah blah; then the Beach Boys would put up the mikes, plug in the bass (the only electric instrument out there), bring out some simple'n'handy percussion, start strumming acoustic guitars, and run through a set of songs that would be as bizarre and unpredictable as possible. Twelve songs, over in a flash. And does it work?

In terms of sales, it certainly did - it outsold the subsequent Pet Sounds by far and brought them one of their biggest (and one of their last) hits with 'Barbara-Ann'. Yes, apparently the audiences were faithfully ready to buy every last piece of junk that the Wilsons and Capitol would send spinning in their direction - as long, of course, as the piece of junk did not represent a major artistic breakthrough, replete with slow, gorgeously arranged ballads and deep, honest sentiments, in which case they would happily pass it by as something decidedly alien...

Uhm. Okay. That was rather misanthropic of me, and besides it's not like Pet Sounds ever flopped or anything. Nevertheless, today, when the world and Capitol Records already do not see that much eye to eye as they used to, I would only recommend Party! to hardcore Beach Boys fanatics only. Truth be told, if you can play an acoustic guitar and sing a little bit, boast a significant number of friends that you can invite to your house all at once, and have access to primitive recording equipment, you can have your own Party! in a matter of several hours or less. Where Concert showcased the band at their tightest and most exciting, playing compact, fun, energetic music in front of real audiences, Party! has them at their most disjointed and, what's worse, most artificial.

The instrumental backing is unbelievably amateurish - nay, just plain crappy, because the Beach Boys are playing themselves and none of them ever was, or wanted to be, a Nick Drake with the acoustic. The harmonies keep wobbling out of sight - here today, gone tomorrow (although strictly speaking, the harmonies are still the - predictably - strong point of the record and the only element which, I admit, will be rather hard for you to reproduce in your back yard). None of the songs are rehearsed a damn, with the singers getting out of tune, forgetting the words, and breaking down in mid-song all over the place. And maybe I wouldn't mind if this were really spontaneous...

...but it actually isn't. Well, not all of it is. Much of the ridiculous, annoying, half-drunk laughter and pitter-patter on the part of "friends" was actually recorded by Mike Love at a real party - which took place in his own house, with no music involved whatsoever. This, in particular, explains why the drunk babble never stops even while the band is actually playing and singing, something that would probably never happen in reality (hey, if I were present at a Beach Boys party, I sure as hell would be keeping my mouth shut while the boys would be into the tricky harmonies - and quietly sneaking rat poison into the drinks of those morons who wouldn't). On the other hand, at least all that hum and din prevents me from actually being able to distinguish all the lame jokes that Mike - and I'm sure of this - is scattering, beartrap mode, in between the performances.

Maybe someone will see their "medley" of 'I Get Around/Little Deuce Coupe' as brilliant proof of the Beach Boys being able to rise above themselves and their "importance" and effectively make fun of even their best material. Didn't they already get a chance to do this with 'Cassius Love Vs. Sonny Wilson', though? What's the point? I hate to see myself coming across as a cranky old fart who's misplaced his sort of humour - but come on now, you actually get to pay money for this, and that ain't no funny matter. Do you wanna be deprived of hard-earned financial means in order to listen to Al Jardine grunting his way through 'The Times They Are A-Changin'? Maybe all you really need is to get to know that yes, Al Jardine loved folk, and loved acoustic Dylan, and was brave enough to get one of his songs recorded for the event. This will save you from the humiliation of hearing a bunch of underage morons following every second line of Al's/Bob's with "RIGHT!" followed by scattered outbursts of laughter because it's SO funny to hear oneself yell "RIGHT!" on a supposedly protest song. ('A test song', claims somebody, probably Mike, 'it was a protest song until now, but now it's a test song'. Now that's one joke that's really funny, because it's actually true.)

Then again, maybe you will shut me down and decide for yourself. To be fair, the album's hardly hopeless. It is nice to hear the band pay so much tribute to the Beatles, with 'Tell Me Why', 'I Should Have Known Better', and 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' (sung by Dennis, no less!) all finding their way onto the record, even if 'I Should Have Known Better' is weirdly abridged and the Dennis number is again saddled by silly "party" laughter. As far as "fully fleshed out" songs on here go (in the context of Party! this would mean "playing the song from beginning to end", "remembering the lyrics", "getting the chords right", and "keeping the idiot friends at a distance"), only two or three can be counted, but when they're good, they're good: Mike Love, as usual, does his absolute best on 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow', which is even more energetic here than in Concert; the Everly Brothers' 'Devoted To You' is crystal clear and cutesy-pretty without much interference (maybe because it is preceded by one of the boys yelling "shut up and go home!" at somebody who was on the verge of actually mistaking all this for a real party?); and the harmonies shine on bright on the cover of Phil Spector's 'There's No Other (Like My Baby)'. Good old Phil, always there to lend a helping hand.

That said, 'Barbara Ann', where the players and singers actually get assistance from Jan and Dean's own Dean Torrence, was the right choice for a single (which, by the way, niftily abridged the sloppy drunk coda by switching to fadeout mode - if you're a fan of the song and you really desperately need to know the way it ends, give us your money). About a third of the album is dedicated to novelty hits, but 'Barbara Ann' beats all the 'Hully Gullies' and 'Ally Oops' by a long shot. Dunno why - just looks that way. Such a fun, cleverly written ditty. Or maybe it's Dean's presence that gives it extra authenticity. In any case, if you ever look up "catchiness" in your local dictionary, you might find a picture of Barbara Ann there, whatever she may look like.

To sum it up, as an "artistic statement" Party! has preciously little value; as "entertainment", just a wee bit more; as a "musical document", merely a trifle higher. So I'm gonna put it into the "historic curio" folder, I suppose, along with whatever else comes by. But I'm not saying you can't have your thirty minutes of fun with it. (Psst! To tell you the truth, even I did have my thirty minutes of fun with it!) It's the sixty minutes of fun that I actually have my doubts about, if you know what I mean.



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Gee, and here I was expecting a whole album of bleating bucks and meaouwing tom-cats. Some "groundbreaking, this!

Best song: pretty much a push between 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8

Track listing: 1) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 2) You Still Believe In Me; 3) That's Not Me; 4) Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder); 5) I'm Waiting For The Day; 6) Let's Go Away For Awhile; 7) Sloop John B; 8) God Only Knows; 9) I Know There's An Answer; 10) Here Today; 11) I Just Wasn't Made For These Times; 12) Pet Sounds; 13) Caroline No; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Unreleased Backgrounds; 15) Hang On To Your Ego; 16) Trombone Dixie.

Adequacy is that little straw of mine that could break the two-humped pet's back. In other words, if you only know three chords on the piano, don't choose Rakhmaninov as your idol. In 1966, most pop bands were well aware of this - and, as a result, left "serious" music to "serious" people (i. e. those whose parents could actually afford them a musical education). Occasional attempts at breaking out and confounding boundaries had already been made - most notably by a pack of musical zombies in possession of a magical rod of argent - but it took Brian Wilson to shake 'em all down and prepare the ground for baroque pop, symph rock, Keith Emerson, the Electric Light Orchestra, and, eventually, a triumphant return to basics with 'Kokomo'.

More often than not, masterworks are being created by accident, whereas chances are that if you go into the studio with a conscious "gonna beat them all into dust" approach, the results are going to be less than satisfactory. Pet Sounds is one of the happy exceptions to the rule. Brian Wilson wanted to make something truly outstanding - nay, scrap that, was absolutely sure that this time around the results of his work will be universally hailed as timeless. And whether Pet Sounds lives up to its present day reputation or it does not, the simple fact of life is that the album's unending popularity cannot be explained by bare smirks like "oh well, the critics have always wanted themselves an American Beatles' equivalent".

What has particularly struck me these last few days as I have been relistening to PS is how, well, odd it sounds. There really is no other record like it, and maybe there can never be. Imagine, I dunno, a wannabe architect, who, having never studied architecture properly, has suddenly been commissioned to design a brand new building, and being guided only by his vision (both artistic and literal - simply by gazing at all kinds of nearby examples) and a certain inborn genius, constructs... something. It's a structure you ain't never seen before, made of materials you never thought could belong together, always reminding you of something that you can't put your finger on nonetheless, and it's in constant danger of collapsing - but somehow never does. That's Pet Sounds.

I mean, what is Pet Sounds? Pop music? Certainly not the kind of pop music you had yourself on earlier, "commercial" Beach Boys albums. Deep under the layers of bizarre sounds you can still discern these old 'Surfer Girl'-type hooks, but they're not jumping out at you, and the radio would spit these songs out long before it could have the patience to chew 'em up. If you want objective "proof" that this is not "pop", look at the reaction of American audiences - Pet Sounds sold significantly less than Party!, and initiated the band's commercial slide; certainly a part of the blame lies on Capitol for failing to promote it, but then dammit, the Beach Boys were the hottest thing on the American charts by late 1965 - what kind of promotion would they need?

Art-rock? Well, provided that we have the right to compare it with a genre that it actually spawned rather than simply belonged to, it doesn't sound one bit like the kind of things we usually expect from 60s "art rock". For starters, if it's art-rock, where's the technical side? Where's the outstanding musicianship? The Beach Boys don't even play their own instruments on this record! Oh, that's right, it is a bit silly to expect great musicianship from the Beach Boys. But all these other guys playing (and the credits - where there are credits; my liner notes wisely omit them - go on for eternity), they're no virtuosos either. They're all there to contribute their share of the "pet sounds", but agility and technique is not one of the requirements.

Another thing is - artsy or fartsy, it's still very much Californian music. Hollywood bathos, albeit turned on its heels and forced to serve higher purposes, is all over this puppy. Sure you can find bits of Bach, but for every little bit of Bach there's a big slice of "Bach-Arach", if you know what I mean, or maybe even Rodgers & Hammerstein. Not that it's a criticism - it's just further reinforcing the fact that Pet Sounds is a pretty oddball piece of meat.

You never really know who the heck the thing is targeted towards, either. The primary audience, I believe, are still the same idealistic rosy-cheeked teens that gathered in droves to send 'Barbara-Ann' to the top of the charts. I mean, Brian himself was still being one of these (in a certain sense, he still remains that way in the XXIst century), and while the lyrics, penned by new collaborator Tony Asher, are certainly "mature" compared to 'Wendy, Wendy left me alone' or even 'There's a place that I can go to', they're still very much teen-oriented. Lyrically, Pet Sounds is exceedingly suitable for, maybe, the age of 16-17, when one is gradually starting to develop thin layers of conscience and self-assertion, even if they're still weak and unprotected. Musically, however, the album far transcends that level, which is an oddity again, because today we're kinda used to art-rock featuring complex, multi-level lyrics loaded with allusions and incomprehensible metaphors whereas the music often leaves you wondering if it hadn't been a better idea for the artist in question to have released a poetry volume instead.

Oddness alone won't get you anywhere, though, so let's move on to the songs. Most of them would fall into the "ballad" category, I guess, especially if listened to separately, but on the whole the album does not have a typical "ballad bash" feel to it - like, for instance, the second side of Today!. And not just because many of the "ballads" are actually upbeat rather than mushy, or because even the mushy ballads can unexpectedly turn into jerky rave-ups. Pet Sounds is, after all, a "teenage symphony", and you don't usually call symphonic music "ballad music" no matter what key it is played in. Certainly writing an album full of ballads was as removed from Brian's original intentions as possible. Writing a deeply religious album of heartfelt sermons and confessions, however, wasn't - and it's not his, or anybody's, fault that heartfelt sermons and confessions are rarely danceable, or that even when they are danceable, they can stop being danceable at any given second.

That, by the way, is exactly what happens on the very first track. There's no danger for the buyer when he hears 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' open with a nice little harp passage - after all, we'd already experienced that with the "overture" to 'California Girls', and just like 'California Girls', 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' very quickly - even quicker, in fact - turns into a catch-a-licious pop stomper. But then it doesn't take more than one minute before the song shifts into an entirely different mode - soft, drumless, and completely dominated by the Beach Boys' "choirboy" tendencies. Sure it regains the tempo afterwards - only to "lose it" one more time with one more gorgeous vocal section, then pick it up again and quickly scramble off into the fadeout before it gets peppered with rotten tomatoes.

It may not be the first time that the Beach Boys are experimenting with different sections within a single song, but it's the most defining of these times. The boundaries between danceable pop and hymnal music are gone, whammo and slammo. "Hooks" and "moods" no longer fall into different categories; frequently they are the very same thing. The entire album is based on mood shifts, and these, in turn, are represented by different series of hooks combined in unpredictable, non-formulaic fashions: I have listened to the album an innumerable number of times, and I still can't memorize the exact sequence of events within a song like 'That's Not Me'. What's even more disturbing is that the same song sometimes sounds like two different songs - 'I'm Waiting For The Day', for instance - while two different songs may, on the other hand, sound almost the same ('That's Not Me' vs. 'I Know There's An Answer', although I'm not referring to the strict chord sequences, of course).

The best news is that, in between all the experimentation and the channel-twiddling and the multi-tracking and the use of Coke bottles for percussion, Brian never forgets about the band's main technical know-how - the vocal harmonies - and these are, in fact, taken to a whole new level. Already on the second track, 'You Still Believe In Me', the listener is left completely reassured - each and every ace card is pulled out of the sleeve, and even though the song lacks an easily identifiable melodic hook per se, its constantly repeated wordless refrain (unless you don't count 'I wanna cry' as part of it), each time in a different vocal setting, playing upon all possible contrasts between the low registers, high registers, and their combinations, is unforgettable.

As for the religious influence, well, we all know that too much spiritualness makes a talentless artist look twice as disgusting and a talented one twice as mesmerizing. And I am not even talking about the album's arguably best-known tune, 'God Only Knows', the Paul McCartney favourite said to have been the first pop song with the word 'God' in it. Let others talk about it. I am talking about the truly Godlike 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)', a "ballad" that sounds like absolutely nothing else made before or since. The most frequently commented upon aspect of the song is, of course, its steady "throbbing" bassline that emulates the 'heartbeat' constantly referred to in the song. But I am far harder struck by the arrangement and production as a whole, especially the first part, before the orchestration - pretty, but the least unusual part of the song - comes in and obscures that faintly heard mystical piano part going on deep in the background. As Brian smoothly rolls on into the chorus part ('but don't talk..', with an intonation stuck somewhere in between lazy, melancholic, and tender, that I could never reproduce), the chemistry between that subconsciously-lodged piano, humming bass, and soothing vocals assumes an almost drug-like character indeed - especially if you're listening to this in headphones. But at the same time it's not drug music at all. It's just a teenage love song that has all of a sudden begun to reflect Brian Wilson's envisioning of what the real Heaven must be like, and it's nobody else's envisioning.

As for the technical aspects of the album - again, loads of stuff have been written about all the minor and major innovating touches, but since for me at least the melodic aspect is somewhat more important than whether you're tapping out the rhythm on a Coca Cola bottle or a can of Pepsi, I'd just like to draw your attention to the instrumental part on 'Here Today'. Not one of my favourite songs on the album, but keep in mind there are three completely different melodies replacing each other during that instrumental part, all of them quite unrelated to the verse/bridge/chorus, and if the Beach Boys weren't the first to do that on a pop record I don't know who was.

Occasional complaints from radical fans are directed at the inclusion of 'Sloop John B', a song that really doesn't fit in quite that well with the rest simply by being way too groovy and careless and rosy and maybe fitting better on an album like All Summer Long, but you bet your life they couldn't have arranged it like that in 1964. Besides, where would we be without a catchy light breather? And certainly one needn't be appalled at 'Sloop John B' rising to #3 on the charts where the album's first single, 'Caroline No', only hit #32 (considering that 'Caroline No' has about as much hit single potential as a double A-side version of 'Revolution # 9, Pts 1 & 2', #32 was a tremendous result, only explainable by the ever-present force of inertia). It deserved it fair and square. 'Sloop John B' is arguably the earliest candidate for making an impression on the listener, and the one song that'll most likely be sung along to, and it's arguably the earliest candidate for "wearing off" the listener as well, but a great catchy single is a great catchy single regardless of the context.

Nevertheless, after all those years I still can't help feeling a lack of something in Pet Sounds, something that's hard to put my finger on, but something that also prevents me from putting it on an even higher pedestal. In a very blunt, dumb-oriented manner I could maybe express that feeling with the immortal phrase "Duh, it all sounds the same". Certainly it does not - there's plenty of variety in the instrumentation and the arrangements, and the moods of the songs vary from optimistic/idealistic to contemplating/melancholic to solemn/religious. But there certainly is some common denominator to all of it, and it's this bloody denominator that prevents me from listening to the album more often than I actually do. Sometimes I think it's the very fact of Brian's spiritual overdrive: let's face it, it can be hard to listen to a sequence of songs each of which is trying to consciously convince you of its emotional greatness (the same problem is actual for George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, but slightly less so because for Harrison these things were coming somewhat more naturally and "at ease" than for Brian, at that point in his life at least). Thus when the song is truly, unquestionably great - 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', 'Don't Talk', 'God Only Knows' - it really doesn't matter, but when the hooks are of a slightly lower caliber (all of the songs whose titles start with the first person pronoun, IMHO), it does, and I still find myself bored with 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' each time I'm just listening to it for the sake of listening and not actually paying attention to its technical aspects.

As for particular complaints - uh, well, I'm absolutely not in love with the two instrumentals. I know they meant a lot to Brian, and they fit in well with the mood of the album and all, but 'Let's Go Away...' still sounds a bit like it should have been someplace in the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, and the title track still sounds like a toothless early 60s instrumental spiced up by bizarre percussion sounds. The Beach Boys are a vocal band, fair and square, and given the choice between 'You Still Believe In Me' and 'Pet Sounds', I don't think I'll have to guess what anybody's decision will be.

I think it's telling that Brian himself was not entirely satisfied with the final album - or, at the very least, did not consider it his masterpiece to beat all other masterpieces, or else he wouldn't have gone on to pursue the ill-fated Smile project. Although he, of course, must have been dissatisfied for an entirely opposite reason, namely, that Pet Sounds, in the end, turned out to be less grandiose and overwhelming than he'd originally intended. But the one mistake of Pet Sounds that he really intended to correct was the overall narrowness of its scope; the follow-up would have been reflecting a more universalist kind of vision and read like a "thinking teenager"'s take on many things in life rather than just on his inner feelings about love, God, and growing older. As for the fact that it never materalised until too late - well, you can regard it as the equivalent of God hurling his lightning bolt from the sky and thwarting an attempt to usurp His privileges, even if God according to Brian Wilson around 1966-67 was, in all probability, still wearing short pants and dreaming sentimental wet dreams.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Could have been a masterpiece, but it's just a giant mess instead.


Track listing: 1) Heroes And Villains; 2) Vegetables; 3) Fall Breaks And Back To Winter; 4) She's Goin' Bald; 5) Little Pad; 6) Good Vibrations; 7) With Me Tonight; 8) Wind Chimes; 9) Gettin' Hungry; 10) Wonderful; 11) Whistle In.

With but nine songs on this sucker, this could have been a weak, weak four at best. As it is, the record happens to contain two of the greatest compositions Brian Wilson's mind ever managed to produce: 'Heroes And Villains' and 'Good Vibrations'. The kind of sound that's presented to us on these two numbers is the way I would REALLY like my Beach Boys to sound more often, and an album comprised of similar songs would certainly have been one of the most perfect pop albums in the whole wide world. To put it shortly, the two songs combine both the catchy upbeat side of the Boys AND the romantic sensuous spiritual side of the band within one musical unit - imagine, for instance, a cross between 'Dance Dance Dance' and 'Please Let Me Wonder' from Today! and you'll start realising the magnificence of the songs.

'Good Vibrations' is, of course, the Beach Boys' trademark element, a near-pop-symphony that manages, within its three and a half minutes, to tell much, much more than many a super-complex progressive rock album dares to. The ethereal organ dominated verses, the unpretentious upbeat surfin' chorus, the barocco interludes, the absolutely gorgeous 'meditative' part of the suite, and, of course, all those impeccable harmony layers plus rockin' cellos (count the Beach Boys as a direct influence on the Move and ELO, then) and Brian's experiments with the Theremin (count the Beach Boys as a direct influence on Led Zeppelin, now!). It's a well-known fact that the song cost 15,000$ to produce, with Brian going as far as intentionally recording different parts of it in different studios, and it was certainly one of those rare cases when it was all worth the money. Okay, most of it was. But don't let the song overshadow 'Heroes And Villains' - an even more upbeat pop-rocker with hilarious lyrics from Brian's collaborator Van Dyke Parks and a cappella harmonic interludes that certainly beat out Pet Sounds in their complexity. And for the Beach Boys, more complex harmonies is always better harmonies.

Now, like I said, the horror of the situation lies in that these two songs - dig this - are the only good songs on Smiley Smile. And there's a good reason for that. The story of Brian's 'superproject', Smile, is quite well-known, I suppose, and has been detailed in a thousand places, so there's no need for me to recall it; suffice it to say that the project never really lifted off the ground because of too much pomposity and heavy-weightedness - long-time projects like these can only be carried out well in certain circumstances, and the era of glorious musical revolutions of 1967 was certainly not the best environment for Brian to work. So, anyway, after Brian's nervous breakdown and cancellation of the project, the remaining Beach Boys took some of the better preserved songs, added some raw material from the sessions and a few song snippets recorded recently to pad out the album, and threw out Smiley Smile - a complete critical and artistic disaster.

And I'm not gonna be pretending that it's possible for me to enjoy the record as a whole. The biggest problem is, of course, that the material is so goddamn raw. In fact, out of the remaining nine tracks, there's not a single one that could qualify as a real song. Instrumental snippets; a cappella vocal parts that fade out all of a sudden and get replaced by some totally frigged-out studio experiments; no rhythm sections for miles around; production that's leagues removed from the immaculate state of Pet Sounds; lack of well-developed hooks; I could go on with the accusations, but I think even these ones are enough to let us understand that Smiley Smile is totally devoid of cohesiveness. What it can perform is the function of a 'document', a little quick glimpse into the demented world of Brian Wilson and the goings-on behind the creation of his 'masterpiece'; but even so, let us not forget that the tracks date from different times and the album was not released as an 'archive' piece, but as a full fledged new Beach Boys album. It's no wonder most of the critical reviews at the time killed off the album and destroyed the band's reputation almost overnight. I don't blame the critics; it was a most foolish decision to release such a rag-tag product at the time. Thirty years on, it can be looked upon as a somewhat fascinating curio; in 1967, it was a silly gaffe.

It's all the more dreadful considering this really COULD have a better album. First of all, I am still befuddled as to why the Beach Boys preferred to release these strange, strange tracks when they had other Smile stuff like 'Surf's Up' and others lying around. They ended up scattering this prime material all over the next five albums; if it existed, whatever prevented them from putting it up on the album in the first place? (Four years later, in a very similar situation, Pete Townshend still found the strength to collect some of the best material from his failed mega-project, Lifehouse, and arrange it on Who's Next, which would go on to be proclaimed the Who's greatest album).

Second, even the tracks that are found on here often have their moments of glory. 'Vegetables', with the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney munching on carrots, is cute, if definitely monotonous; 'She's Goin' Bald' could have been a goofy little psycho anthem, but it's marred with the ear-destructive speeding up of vocals in the middle; 'Wonderful' has wonderful harmonies indeed, but is way too rambling and incoherent to be considered a song; the harmonies in 'Little Pad' could have sounded great in a 'Good Vibrations' clone of sort, but not as an absolute value in themselves, and so on and so on. But they all sound like raw archived demos at best. It's a real pain to sit through this album, believe me - a terrible pain as you realize the failed possibilities and the damage the album made to the Beach Boys reputation. They were expected to come up with their major album, a masterpiece of masterpieces, a 'teenage symphony to God'; but they don't even produce a normal album - they come up with this ragged demo stuff. Bah.

Don't get me wrong - I don't hate it, and from a purely psychological point of view, it's cool to see the Beach Boys 'trip out' in such eccentric manner. It's not Pet Sounds, but it's as far removed from surf-rock as possible (apart from the finished songs, of course, where surf-rock plays a major part, but they're in no way limited to surf-rock) and certainly didn't deserve the notorious Hendrix insult. The basic problem is that the album has no purpose and a very limited enjoyability potential. That's all. If you ask me very kindly, I may even raise the rating five, six, three hundred points, whatever; I admire the 'spirit' of the album, but it doesn't mean I will be regularly listen to it, and I doubt anybody in his right mind will either.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The Beach Boys go 'soul'? The Beach Boys go 'retro'? Or the Beach Boys just don't know where to go?

Best song: DARLIN'

Track listing: 1) Wild Honey; 2) Aren't You Glad; 3) I Was Made To Love Her; 4) Country Air; 5) A Thing Or Two; 6) Darlin'; 7) I'd Love Just Once To See You; 8) Here Comes The Night; 9) Let The Wind Blow; 10) How She Boogalooed It; 11) Mama Says.

Definitely a huge improvement over Smiley Smile in every possible way - except that Smiley Smile is such an oddball record it can't even stand to comparisons. Anyway, the critics bashed it in any case because by the time of the album's release it was obvious the Beach Boys were no longer 'on the cutting edge', and the disillusionment was at its peak. And, of course, sales plummeted down both because of the bummer of the predecessor and because by now America turned its attention towards the Summer of Love bands, San Francisco and stuff. You know.

In the process, Wild Honey was missed. It's not a masterpiece - but it's the first in a lengthy, lengthy series of hit-and-miss albums where minor chef-d'oeuvres walk hand in hand with "weird" stuff as well as with ugly filler, a situation not unlike the one with, say, the late Kinks' catalog. By now, Brian was in a pretty malfunctioning state: it's not that he was completely "disabled" as rumours sometimes go, it's just that he was essentially disinterested in making 'perfect' music. You know, when your dream world crumbles around you and the project of your life comes to naught and you find yourself unjustly despised and forgotten and you STILL have to commit yourself to making music, if only for the sake of your comrades and the few remaining fans, what good can come out of it? It's amazing that Brian even could be further writing good songs. But essentially, starting from Wild Honey, the Beach Boys go back to becoming a real 'band', maybe even more so than ever before. At around this time, Dennis and Carl started to emerge as songwriters, Mike Love took over the lyrics, and Carl even started trying his hand at production - all spurred on by Brian's example. The only true genius in the band was Brian, of course, but let us not forget the importance of influence within a single band. Would George Harrison go on to produce such a masterpiece as All Things Must Pass had he not spent a dozen years working side by side with Lennon and McCartney? I know I can't prove it, but every rational and irrational thought I've ever had tell me 'no'. So let's not underestimate the separate Beach Boys' abilities, either. A lot of ugly things came out of it, but a lot of beauty as well.

In any case, the majority of Wild Honey numbers are still dominated by Brian's songwriting. But it's a kind of songwriting that has nothing to do with the barocco beauty of Pet Sounds, and even less so with the weirdness of Smiley Smile. It's a nice pop album with not a single true stinker in sight; neither do we see the Beach Boys' harmonies - apart from two or three numbers, the classic multi-track harmonizing is almost ENTIRELY replaced by isolated lead vocals. Wild Honey has often been called the Beach Boys' 'soul' album, which, to my mind, is due to two factors: (a) Carl's wailing vocals on several of the tracks which defy the "pre-established pattern" by going all over the place and rising to passionate screaming from time to time; (b) their cover of Stevie Wonder's 'I Was Made To Love Her'. Otherwise, it's just a pop album. It's just instrumentated in a pretty different way; organ, electric piano, Theremin, and a cappella singing come in to replace primitive Berryesque strumming of the earliest stuff. It's simple - for the most part, and certainly fell out of the contemporary culture like a stone. But so did the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society.

It's telling, though, that the best number on here is undeniably 'Darlin' - a number written by Brian as early as 1963 (why the hell didn't they put up the song on an album like Surfer Girl is beyond me, it's stronger than almost everything on there). It's a fully-produced up-tempo number that's really distinguished by an adventurous brass section and Carl's magnificent vocalizing - there's a wonderfully subtle 'fragility' to his vocals that gives a feeling of insecurity and maybe even 'cowardice' even as the singer is wailing about how 'I love the way you soften my life with your love'. Few other songs come close to the level established by this piece of brilliancy: maybe the title track, with its almost "astral" Theremin riff and more of that funny Carl wailing, this time positively psychotic.

Minor highlights abound, though. 'Easy-going', light quasi-throwaway numbers at close sight turn out to be quite endearing, like, for instance, the simple piano-led 'Aren't You Glad' (a bit in the 'Good Day Sunshine' vein, if you know what I mean, only more romantic), or Brian's tiny ditty 'I'd Love Just Once To See You' where he betrays his feelings in the end by adding ' the nude'. Tee hee. 'Let The Wind Blow', while I don't find it too memorable, has a strong vocal harmony showcase, if only to remind us that the Beach Boys were still strong at their main game even if, for whatever reasons, they preferred to hide it on most other tracks.

The other upbeat tunes are actually first-rate, as well: the Stevie Wonder cover is pretty energetic (of course, it was also given to Carl - Wild Honey is, without a doubt, the place where the guy really found his vocal style), and 'Here Comes The Night', with its complex and unpredictable chorus - I particularly love the moody organ pattern on it, which adds an entire new dimension to the song - is beautiful, if only you manage to forget the hiccupy disco remake on L.A. I suppose the only upbeat number that a Beach Boys lover can have trouble with is the 'rock sendup' 'How She Boogalooed It', where even Carl's vocals can't help the feeling of corniness; not coincidentally, it's the only number on the record written by the other members of the band without Brian's support. But I don't find it offensive - the guitar/organ interplay is interesting at the least, so it works for me. Finally, let's not forget the delicious 'Country Air' with its convincing celebration of "outside" delights... remember I mentioned Village Green Preservation Society? the two albums certainly have their moments in common.

Finally, we get ousted out of the record by Brian's mantraic chanting of 'eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush 'em like crazy, run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy' ('Mama Says') - weird, eh? - and taking a chance to reevaluate what we just heard, we come to the conclusion that it's one of the Beach Boys' strongest albums of the Sixties. No, it's not innovative, but neither, in a direct sense, was the White Album. What IS innovative about both of these records is that both the Beach Boys and the Beatles go and 'revisit their roots' armed by their newly-found experience, professionalism, and amazing musical discoveries of the past two years. Neither 'Wild Honey' nor 'Here Comes The Night' nor 'Darlin' would have been able to sound that good in 1963; Brian Wilson had to go through Pet Sounds and Smile to establish that style. That's progress, in a certain sense.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Almost unbearably mellow, but so what if I don't happen to be in a mellow mood right now? The melodies are fine.

Best song: PASSING BY

Track listing: 1) Meant For You; 2) Friends; 3) Wake The World; 4) Be Here In The Morning; 5) When A Man Needs A Woman; 6) Passing By; 7) Anna Lee The Healer; 8) Little Bird; 9) Be Still; 10) Busy Doin' Nothin'; 11) Diamond Head; 12) Transcendental Meditation.

Note: already after I've finished writing this review, I suddenly remembered that a weird former part of myself actually already wrote a review of this album, and not on the Prindle site. I checked it out and was excited to learn I still share a lot of those opinions, but since there were a few actual differences, plus, the old review's style was a bit, er, obsolete, to put it roughly, after some inner debates I decided to keep the new one after all. Here's a link to the old classic weird review, then (see the Friends entry, of course).

Back to the new one, now. After Wild Honey, I guess it was obvious that the Beach Boys had entirely given up on competition of any sorts, and both of last year's albums had cemented the "dated" image of the boys so firmly in the public opinion that it was impossimble to compete anyway. In this respect, I don't think Brian ever had any illusions about potential success when he and the boys were recording Friends. The album seems to go entirely against the trends and norms of 1968, in almost every single respect, even more so than the Kinks. It's abysmally short, about twenty five minutes long, bringing back the era of Surfin' Safari. It's based on singles. It's drastically underproduced, with many of the tunes employing just a single organ pattern or a trivial piano-bass interplay. Worse of all, it's softer than any other record released at the time - rock record, at least, if we're to consider the Beach Boys a rock band.

But it's a good record, twenty five minutes of calm, quiet, and exceptionally tuneful relaxation. It's just that the record is so stripped down that at times I get the feeling I'm listening to Smiley Smile again. Fortunately, it is not so: all of the compositions on here are all very well thought-out and finished, all of them joining together in one intentional package of briefness, charm and soothingness. It just takes time to get into; a time and a mood. Unfortunately, so far I haven't yet had a chance to get into the required mood, but I'll try to fake it. After all, there's a time for everything, and just because I haven't been patient enough to wait for the time for Friends, do you think I can bash a good album just like that? No way!

I can bash certain songs, though. Like almost everybody, I can, will and even feel myself obliged to bash the chitlins out of 'Transcendental Meditation', one of the band's lowest points of the epoch. What an ugly and dumb way to end the record - with a two-minute pseudo-rocker based on discordant jazzy brass work and corny, sappy vocals that have absolutely nothing to do with transcendental meditation. The only excuse I can take for the existence of the song is that it has to be taken tongue-in-cheek, based on the Beach Boys' unhappy experience of touring with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. If they ever wanted to make fun of his doctrine, they couldn't have taken a better route... and even so, it still sucks.

More arguable would be my dismissal of the two compositions by Dennis. Despite the hugely laudable liner notes about Dennis' enormous creative potential and beautiful voice, I can only say that (a) if Dennis ever had a potential in the first place, it wouldn't start coming out until a couple of albums later and (b) out of all the Beach Boys' voices, his is undeniably the worst - not exactly lacking expression, but very insecure of itself and, well, ordinary compared to the rest. 'Little Bird' is at least upbeat in its own humble way, but 'Be Still' just passes me by like a stone: minimalistic organ notes and near a cappella singing in that shaky tone don't really make up for substantial listening.

So let's stick to the real thing, shall we? There are nine more songs, which all rule in one of the nine possible ways. Way number one: take the same minimalist organ pattern as in 'Be Still', but supplement it with a great emotional vocal hook and cute backing vocals and make a half-minute intro. That's 'Meant For You', as gorgeous an introduction to an album that there ever was. Way number two: make up a cheerful, delightful waltz that will make you feel at home even if you're listening to it through a gap in Lucifer's jaws. That's the title track. Way number three: to punch up some emotionality, take a music-hall melody and play it in a minor key to put an inch of melancholy into the pudding ('Wake The World'). Way number four: sing a song in a pitch higher than everything you did before ('Be Here In The Morning'). And so on...

I'll just mention three songs more because there are substantial things I think I can say about 'em. 'Passing By', although instrumental, is also one of the very best instrumentals ever recorded by the band. Unlike the early obligatory surf send-ups or the "experimental for the sake of experimentation" stuff on Pet Sounds, this one has a really interesting original melody that's just as soothing as everything else on here but doesn't suffer from cheaply penned lyrics. Cool harmony lines, oh so cool harmony lines, too. Next: 'Anna Lee The Healer' is beautiful. A bit McCartneyesque in style, and I could care less if Mike Love's lyrics are ridiculous beyond belief, set out to celebrate the talents of a masseuse of all people. Finally, 'Diamond Head' is another instrumental and one of the weirdest ones they ever did. Who said experimentation days are over? It describes a Hawaiian landmark and does so in a million different ways and so vivaciously I really gape in awe. Listen to the sound effects, the slide guitars, the complex percussion, the way the melodies fade out and come back in a different way... a whole world of its own.

And that's about it. I know I mentioned the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society in the previous review already, but I can't help but make a comparison again - this album is the equivalent, with the nice charming rural atmosphere overwhelming the listener. Even the album cover with all the 'green' overtones brings on associations. Needless to say, both albums sank equally low at the time... and were replaced on the pedestal as time went by. Still, let us not forget Friends is not a masterpiece - too short, too much filler for such a short album, and, well, hey, it's no Pet Sounds, you know, as banal as it sounds.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Here's your chance to be a Beach Boy! Don't forget to bring the buddies along to sing harmonies!

Best song: ask Capitol about this, not me.

Track listing: 1) Darlin'; 2) Salt Lake City; 3) Sloop John B.; 4) In My Room; 5) Catch A Wave; 6) Wild Honey; 7) Little Saint Nick; 8) Do It Again; 9) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 10) God Only Knows; 11) Surfer Girl; 12) Little Honda; 13) Here Today; 14) You're So Good To Me; 15) Let Him Run Wild; [BONUS TRACKS]: 16) Help Me Rhonda; 17) California Girls; 18) Our Car Club.

I was all set up to bash this crass mockery of a record like every self-respecting music critic should when all of a sudden I was seized with a blasphemous thought... hey, it's really fun! It's kinda nice to have it around! Admit it! Isn't it?

Okay, let me explain. Stack-O-Tracks is the last in line of a series of ridiculous Capitol attempts to cash in on the Beach Boys' name. Seeing as how they only got one studio record from the band in 1968, and it didn't sell much at all, Capitol decided to issue a collection of some of the band's best songs with the vocals wiped out - presumably, so that you and your friend could put it on at a party and sing along. Make your own cover version of any of fifteen Beach Boys songs. To make matters easier, they also put in lyrics sheets for every song and even sheetnote music (the latter is somewhat puzzling, though; maybe the original plan was to have a double album with nothing but music on the first LP and nothing but the vocals on the second? That'd do the trick, and you'd also have yourself a Sixties Zaireeka before The Flaming Lips came up with the concept... anyway, I'm digressing).

Of course, Capitol miscalculated by a good three years or so: in 1965, hordes of Beach Boys fans who were scooping up their Christmas albums and stuff like Party! probably would have easily swallowed this stuff, too, but in 1968, ridiculous cash-ins like these were long out of fashion. So the record quickly went off the shelves and remained that way until it was re-issued on CD as a 2-fer with Party! several decades later. Which, of course, was rather generous on Capitol's side - here you had a 2-fer edition that you had a full, complete, and unabridged right to avoid unless you were a diehard completist (generous, because they could have put, say, Party! together with a chef-d'oeuvre like Today! and this album together with some other classic and... well, you get it).

Needless to say, nobody ever took this seriously - a Beach Boys album without the vocals is, after all, pretty similar to an Eric Clapton album without the guitar. And the whole "proto-Karaoke" stuff should be enough to make you nauseous. However, there is a minor point to this record, and I fully agree with the liner notes on this issue. The Beach Boys weren't merely about the vocals; they were also about immaculately crafted, complex, and very often beautiful arrangements, and as much as we love the band's gorgeous singing, these other assets often get lost behind the angelic harmonies. In this way, Stack-O-Tracks gives the listener an opportunity to experience the music as such, and perhaps, notice some interesting details that inevitably slip past you when you're listening to the "real" versions. After all, with all the anthologies and boxsets and outtake collections of famous bands and artists, you very often find yourself listening to instrumental versions of well-known vocal performances that the compilers deliberately put in there so you could appreciate the music more (an immediate example - the strings-only carcass of 'Eleanor Rigby' on the Beatles' Anthology II); Stack-O-Tracks can function in the same way.

Not that this guarantees more than one listen to the tracks, of course, but I guess it is worth one listen. It's kinda fun to compare the early songs, like 'Surfer Girl', with the later ones: where 'Surfer Girl' features minimal instrumentation and nothing much happens once you've gone past the first two phrases, on later tracks you start getting additional instruments one by one (harmonium, organ, horns, etc.), trickier time signatures, and, of course, all those multi-section things on Pet Sounds era material. I guess Pet Sounds tracks are, unsurprisingly, the most interesting ones in that respect - 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', 'God Only Knows', 'Here Today', and 'Sloop John B.' would all have been excellent instrumentals even without the harmonies.

Funny enough, Capitol didn't actually manage to wipe the vocals entirely on the older tracks - 'Little Saint Nick' and 'Catch A Wave' in particular have faint echoes of the band singing which can easily be audible even without the headphones. Hey, of course, if you use the record for its original purpose ("you sing the words and play with the original instrumental backgrounds to 15 of their biggest hits!"), that's not a big problem.

The 2-fer reissue actually throws three more "instrumental backgrounds" into the package (with 'California Girls' probably being a worthwhile addition), but it's not something I can get particularly emotional about. Anyway, it is a worthwhile addition to your collection if you're learning to play Beach Boys songs or if you're just particularly curious about how they structured their arrangements, and in this way, it's certainly a more reasonable cash-in than Party!. But, of course, if you already have one of those nifty Karaoke machines that can wipe the vocals out of any record in your collection, no need to bother. Track down Brian Wilson's liner notes to the record, though - very useful for a basic understanding of some of the musical techniques applied here.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Adding diversity, retroism, all kinds of crap... makes up for something that's all over the place and all for the better.


Track listing: 1) Do It Again; 2) I Can Hear Music; 3) Bluebirds Over The Mountain; 4) Be With Me; 5) All I Want To Do; 6) The Nearest Faraway Place; 7) Cotton Fields; 8) I Went To Sleep; 9) Time To Get Alone; 10) Never Learn Not To Love; 11) Our Prayer; 12) Cabinessence.

It's a paradox: 20/20 obviously shows that the Beach Boys were at a creative halt at the time, probably suppressed by the lack of commercial spark in their three previous albums or other personal reasons (and Brian certainly didn't give a frig at the time). It's formally a hit-and-miss affair, hastily patched together to free the Beach Boys of their Capitol contract (they were signed up for twenty albums, hence the title). So they stuffed the album with a bunch of recently produced singles, just a couple new Wilson originals, a bunch of covers, a bunch of Dennis' songs, and even a Bruce Johnston instrumental - figures. Moreover, it's 20/20 that actually initiated the practice of digging into the Smile vaults to pad the record with better quality material, a practice the Beach Boys would be employing for years to come. In other words, it's just total turmoil.

But guess what? This turmoil had a good side to it - as nice as Wild Honey and Friends (hey, and Pet Sounds, too!) were, they just couldn't provide one crucial factor: diversity. These songs are quite different from each other, often delving into areas like straightforward rock'n'roll and country-rock which the Beach Boys weren't experts in; but for the most part, it all works, and I count no truly bad songs on the record. Even better, the record has a bunch of downright classics - it's no wonder that, while most Beach Boys' greatest hits albums kinda dismiss the previous three albums, they're usually packed with stuff from 20/20, and rightly so. While some of the band's Seventies' albums could boast better songs, there wouldn't be an album that'd have 'Do It Again', 'I Can Hear Music', 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain', and 'Cabinessence' all in one place.

Yeah, it's also that last Beach Boys album where I don't have to scratch my head and find the fast forward button to skip past a Mike Love atrocity or a Dennis Wilson mediocrity and find out that deeply hidden snippet of Brian Wilson's genius. There's a lot of Brian Wilson's genius on 20/20, but the other boys sure give it some competition. 'Do It Again', for instance. It's the first in a lengthy series of Brian's/Mike's "nostalgic" pastiches - surf-style songs that heartily yearn for the good old days of 1962, and here the nostalgia spirit isn't even subtle, as the "let's get back together and do it again" chorus openly declares its goal. But it's also a great song, with a terrific mid-tempo rhythm and wonderful echoey effect on the snare drum. It's surf-rock for sure, but again, it's great to hear the guys come up with a 'sophisticated' version of surf-rock, with production and arrangement values miles ahead of whatever they did six or seven years ago. In this way, it's tons better than the plain retro stuff you can find on M.I.U. and later on, since the song has a 'sincere' ring to it. Let's do it again! Why not? So what if Mike Love grew himself an ugly shabby beard? Whoever said you can't surf with a beard?

It's really funny, though, that 'Do It Again' is, in fact, the only sign of Mike's spirit on the album. Well, okay, if you don't count 'Bluebirds Over The Mountain', where he also sings lead vocals on the verses. I have mixed feelings towards the song. On one hand, the melody is really groovy and catchy. On the other hand, for idiotic reasons they had to go ahead and screw it up by letting their tour guitarist Ed Carter come up with generic 'screaming' electric guitar on the breaks. The guy may be competent, but the cheerful poppy nature of the song and the, er, "aggressive" style of Carter's playing don't stick together any better than Elton John with Eminem, if you get my drift. The liner notes complain that the single bombed because 'nobody wanted to hear this kind of rock from the Beach Boys', and yeah, I guess I have to agree in some way - nobody wanted to hear this kind of shitty rock from the Beach Boys. If you wanna meld nice pop with ugly rock'n'roll, at least find a more subtle way to do that than juxtaposing sweet friendly lead vocals with distorted 'rebellious' guitar playing.

Because I, for one, think that the Beach Boys are able to do rock'n'roll - I don't have any problems with Dennis' 'All I Want To Do', a raunchy screaming rocker with a raunchy hoarse Mike Love on the vocals and sex noises in the background on the fade-out. It's not exceptional or anything, but it's pulled off in a pretty convincing manner, with creditable lead work this time and a cool wall-of-sound production. Almost MC5-like, although to be sure, Love's vocals remind me of Eric Burdon in this particular spot. As for Dennis, he comes one step closer to matching the efforts of his betters by refining his 'ominous', shadowy style on the self-produced 'Be With Me' and the harmony-drenched countryesque 'Never Learn Not To Love'.

Carl gets only one spotlight on the record, but gosh, oh what a spotlight this is. For some reason, I never see 'I Can Hear Music' get the praise it deserves - and sometimes, it even gets some flack for 'cheesiness'. Hmm, so what if it's a Phil Spector cover? Who cares. It's absolute and total pop perfection, one of the best performances ever to come out of the Beach Boys. No, you don't get me well enough: it's just a perfect pop song. Not one note to give, not one note to take; an ecstatic hook on the verse, an ecstatic hook on the bridge, an ecstatic hook or two on the chorus. Easily one of the most gorgeous and blissful love songs ever written (yeah, so I'm just a sentimentalist! Never mind, we'll get to Judas Priest in a minute), and Carl's vocals are beautiful. My only complaint is that they shouldn't have let it fade out so quickly. That sucks.

In the meantime, as this is a true true band effort, Bruce Johnston gets in the "Proto-New-Age" instrumental 'The Nearest Faraway Place' which is a bit dull but nowhere near as bad as people say, and Al Jardine regales the band with a 'contribution' in the form of his take on 'Cotton Fields'. This song, curiously enough, is often presented as a lowlight - I don't get the reason; I think the Beach Boys pull it off mighty fine, hardly any worse than CCR did the same year (and at least, unlike Fogerty, Al sings the complete lyrics to the song, not just one verse and one chorus over and over again).

This leaves us with Brian, and that's the section I'd like to bypass - I've already spent quite a lot webspace by talking about Brian's style. Brian's style is always the same, so if you dig Brian's style, you'll dig the songs he writes on here.'I Went To Sleep' and 'Time To Get Alone' aren't among my favourites, but the closing two Smile outtakes are glorious - particularly 'Cabinessence', which should be listened to in headphones at top volume to get all the grandiosity of the vocal harmonies on here. It's like a sea with batteries of waves crashing into themselves in every direction and yet it's all natural and oh so fluent. Awesome.

In all, 20/20 is more than a fitting conclusion to the Sixties - definitely the Beach Boys' highest moment as a 'band', an Abbey Road of sorts, even, with lots of different styles and different personalities working to integrate their talents into a rather cohesive whole. I'm really surprised the album doesn't get as much respect as it ought to: it's easily my second or third favourite Beach Boys album by now. Plus, if you get the 2-fer with Friends, you'll get fabulous bonus tracks like their last single for Capitol, 'Breakaway', or Dennis' amazing 'Celebrate The News' with ear-shattering wall-of-sound vocal harmonies, or even a fun and touching version of the folk standard 'Ol' Man River'. Lost at the time, the record still doesn't get enough respect - come on now, people, it's time to recognize that Brian Wilson wasn't the only good thing about the Beach Boys. Not by 1969, at least.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

They're back on stage - professional, bearded, gorgeous, and thoroughly unfunny.


Track listing: 1) Darlin'; 2) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 3) Sloop John B.; 4) California Girls; 5) Do It Again; 6) Wake The World; 7) Aren't You Glad; 8) Bluebirds Over The Mountains; 9) Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring; 10) Good Vibrations; 11) God Only Knows; 12) Barbara Ann.

As every Beach Boys connoisseur will explain to you, the title of the album (the last word, actually) is no big surprise - by the late Sixties, the Beach Boys were so "irrelevant" in the States that nobody could be bothered with putting out cash-in albums like these anymore; not so in Britain, where the Beach Boys were still well acclaimed and respected. Thus, naturally, this album, released without the band's consent in 1970; it was released in the States only as late as 1976, to coincide with the band's carefully crafted "comeback", and was strangely titled Beach Boys '69, even if the actual show was recorded at the London Palladium in December 1968. Of course, with the passing of time this strange gaffe has been corrected (now the album is widely available on a two-fer CD with Concert), but still you can't help but wonder how dumb record executives can be sometimes.

Anyway, this is an excellent concert and all, but, of course, you can't expect the fresh young energy of 1964 any longer. By focusing on newer material (only two songs from 1965 and everything else from Pet Sounds and later), the band kinda finds itself torn between wanting to put on an energetic entertaining show full of friendly spontaneity, on one hand, and making every effort to preserve every musical/vocal nuance of their ultra-complex recordings so as not to appear too minimalistic or unskilled, and this results in a somewhat cumbersome feeling overall. My credits don't list anybody else besides the Beach Boys themselves, but apparently they're augmented by a horn section (or at least just a couple of saxes), and somebody's gotta be playing the theremin on 'Good Vibrations' unless they're playing to pre-recorded tapes, and even the Who had trouble playing to pre-recorded tapes. Of course, Brian isn't present either, but apparently Ed Carter (!!) is, so he can faithfully reproduce the vomit-inducing 'heavy' guitar playing on 'Bluebirds Over The Mountains'.

What really grates on this album is Mike Love's incessant chattering. I gotta give the man the props for actually admitting to being an ass (in the liner notes, he's quoted as saying that 'I tell jokes sometimes which are corny, which are outright stupid... that, to me, is funny when nobody laughs' - why, Mike?), but that doesn't excuse him from being an ass. None of his jokes are funny, and there's just way too many of them (and why does he have to announce 'Bluebirds Over The Mountains' in Spanish?). At least they should have put them at the end of each track so that you could skip the goddamn banter... instead, they put them at the beginning, aww crap, why can't this world be perfect? And who does that man think he is, Karl Marx? Look at that goddamn photo! Compared to a sexy hunk like Dennis, he looks like a miserable tramp.

Outside of all these problems, it's still a good concert album, of course, chockful of classics as well as a few unpredictable choices. The Beach Boys are giving the British audiences what they want to hear - thus, there's three Pet Sounds numbers, out of which 'God Only Knows' is the major highlight, with Carl's singing as beautiful as ever. 'Good Vibrations' might actually put some people off because they're trying way too hard to recreate the original exactly, with all the harmonies and all the tricky instrumental bits and the theremin, and that's a pretty hard task to do - but, just like in the case of prog bands, sometimes it's worth admiration to just observe the audacity; and since the Beach Boys weren't virtuosos (even if a comparison with Concert does reveal that virtually every Beach Boy has become much more mature at his respective instrument since 1964), it's even more admirable that they managed to throw together a version that doesn't make me cringe for even a second (except the little bit where they go into the quiet, slow, most heavenly part of the song and the audience goes on clapping by inertia and Mike mutters 'different tempo, eh' - that's a bit silly).

Then there's some material from Wild Honey (a stompin' version of 'Darlin' that opens the show is actually one of the main highlights), and all of those recent singles like the aforementioned 'Bluebirds' and 'Do It Again'. The major surprises include an emotionally uplifting 'Wake The World', which, as Mike announces, 'we like to do in total darkness'; the pretty, and flawlessly performed, accappella number 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring' (which you can also find nowadays among the bonus tracks on Wild Honey); and their choice of 'Barbara Ann' as the encore (where Mike misses out on the second verse, the scum!). So on a technical level, there's few things to complain about, and I guess that the album is worth your time if you don't plan on getting it separately from Concert.

And the two-fer reissue also adds two important bonus tracks, each reflecting its epoch: 'Don't Worry Baby' with Brian taking lead vocals (from the same show as Concert), and 'Heroes And Villains' from the still unreleased Lei'd In Hawaii live album from 1967, known to be Brian's first actual concert performance with the boys since his 1964 breakdown. The 'Heroes And Villains' performance is actually wonderful - absolutely self-assured, steady and sharp, which makes me really yearn for the album's release... but I guess some things are hard to reach, eh?



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Nice to see somebody bothered to inject a bit of surfin' beauty in the Seventies, too...


Track listing: 1) Slip On Through; 2) This Whole World; 3) Add Some Music To Your Day; 4) Got To Know The Woman; 5) Deirdre; 6) It's About Time; 7) Tears In The Morning; 8) All I Wanna Do; 9) Forever; 10) Our Sweet Love; 11) At My Window; 12) Cool Cool Water.

Just as the never-finished Smile project served as a treasure chest for much of the Beach Boys' late Sixties records, their early Seventies' records mostly drew their share of solid tunes from the never-finished Landlocked project... wait: Landlocked was a finished project, but Warner Brothers simply refused to release it due to whatever reasons drove them to consider it uncommercial. In any case, there'd been enough material on there to serve as inspiration for two or three of the next albums, which resulted in their being as rag-taggy as possible. There's definitely been no good luck for these guys since 1966.

This and the following album are sort of a "cult favorite" duo for the Beach Boys - virtually ignored in the early Seventies and for a long time completely out of print, Sunflower and Surf's Up have slowly achieved mammoth fame among Beach Boys diehards. In this respect, I think it's fair to give out a "pre-warning" to those who expect some huge cosmic revelation from this album, lulled by all the hype: don't. Everything the Beach Boys did in the early Seventies is just as lightweight as you'd expect from them in, say, 1964; no true innovation or progression whatsoever lies within that period of work. The good news, then, the best news even, that separate this period of 'forgotten beauty' from the Beach Boys final "trip of mediocrity" initiated by 15 Big Ones, is that these early Seventies' records do not sound like pathetic nostalgic cash-ins. Not innovating in a pure sense, the Wilsons and their hang-abouts are still trying to find new sounds and arrange their harmonies in ways they didn't before - in other words, they're still creative and convincing, while later albums like M.I.U., while being perfectly listenable, mainly just rehash past glories and are generally orientated towards aging surf-rock fans desperate for more stuff from their formerly favourite band.

It doesn't mean that I'm perfectly happy with Sunflower. As far as Seventies' albums go, this is perhaps the most 'band-like' effort from the boys: both Brian and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston actively contribute to songwriting, and as a result, you get a mixed bag where stupid stinkers walk hand in hand with gorgeous masterpieces. Well, not exactly, I suppose, because speaking frankly, I don't see any really stupid stinkers on here. Only one or two, maybe, like Love's 'Add Some Music To Your Day' which is a piece of crumply nostalgic radio fodder that should really have belonged to M.I.U., I suppose (and to think that the song title was initially thought of as an alternate title to the Landlocked project!). It's not that the song is exactly bad - it's even catchy, but it represents the stagnated formula of 1963 so exactly that it ain't even fun. Out of Bruce Johnston's two contributions, I fidget nervously at the sounds of 'Tears In The Morning', with that corny French accordeon in the background and drastically overexaggerated sappy vocals - and again, I suppose the song hearkens back to the 'pre-rock' epoch where Mr Johnston was picking most of his inspiration from. 'Deirdre' is a tad better, though, with its folkish punch and McCartneyesque vocal hooks.

Another potential stinker on here is often considered the Jardine/Wilson collaboration 'At My Window', with its childish tale of a little brown sparrow and ad-libbed Spanish lyrics; but arguably it's just an innocent hoot and can't be deemed offensive. It doesn't bite.

The big star of the album is undoubtedly Dennis, finally stepping in as a fully fledged songwriter and a serious competitor to Brian; his approach is somewhat more gruff, though, so if your ideal of a Beach Boys album is something really really sweet and heavenly, just skip the tracks of Dennis. Then again, how much sweetness can one really take in? And that's where cute little pop-rockers like 'Slip On Through' come on and save the day - immaculate songs like that add an energetic punch to the album (although I could definitely live without the annoying "bleep" - "bleep" - "bleep" synthesizer running through the song, because the only thing it does is derail the tune and make the unsuspecting listener want to check if the CD is in order). 'Got To Know The Woman' is strangely bluesy for a Beach Boys song, sounding more like the Animals in spots, but you gotta love those speedy bass runs. 'Forever' is one of the best ballads on the album, showing Dennis could actually give his fatter brother some competition - uplifting and beautiful. And 'It's About Time' sounds nothing like 'classic' Beach Boys either, a disturbing rocker with a trippy mid-section... you know what? It sounds more like Crosby, Stills & Nash than the Beach Boys! Yeah, that's it, I suppose Mr Crosby could easily have penned something like that, a hippiesque disturbing rocker with hippiesque lyrics, except that Mr Crosby would have probably thrown out the good melodies and good hooks: now we know how Mr Crosby pens his songs, don't we?

And do you realize now how much of a mixed bag this album is if this stern little Crosby-like rocker is replaced by the Frankie Avalon-like 'Tears In The Morning' just as it fades out? Now that's some kind of diversity for you.

Brian is still king, though. 'This Whole World' is gorgeous, fully in the "patented B. W. fast ballad" tradition; 'Our Sweet Love' has a Pet Sounds vibe about it; but the most impressive tune, of course, is the nearly-accappella 'Cool Cool Water', a five-minute suite that closes the album. There might be many discussions on what actually is the best place to demonstrate the Beach Boys' complete mastery of vocal harmony principles, but 'Cool Cool Water' should certainly be a Top 5 contender. And if it's supposed to carry an ecological message ('in an ocean or in a glass, cool water is such a gas!') or a parody on commercials ('when I'm just too hot to move, cool water is such a groove!'), I'm all for it. It's a bit sad to realize that the song was an old 1968 outtake, but after all, better to use your old brilliant outtakes than to write new crappy songs. Who cares about the time?

All in all, just sort out the few stinkin' filler tracks which are the most generic or the most cringe-inducingly sappy, and the final product, while short, will certainly make your day. And a fine, flowery, sunny day it will be, too.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Gentler and sappier than its predecessor, but of equally uneven quality.

Best song: SURF'S UP

Track listing: 1) Don't Go Near The Water; 2) Long Promised Road; 3) Take A Load Off Your Feet, Pete; 4) Disney Girls (1957); 5) Student Demonstration Time; 6) Feel Flows; 7) Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song); 8) A Day In The Life Of A Tree; 9) 'Til I Die; 10) Surf's Up.

Democracy sucks. Plain and simple. Just because some guys who can't consistently write a bunch of great tunes are the "important members" of a band doesn't mean you have to accept everything they've written and put it on your next album. In a perfect world, Surf's Up would never have included a song like 'Student Demonstration Time'. For some reason, Mike Love thought of injecting a heavy rock fluid into the Beach Boys' ocean of sentimentality and baroqueness, but of course, Mike Love (nor any other Beach Boy, for that matter) couldn't write a decent heavy rock song to save his life, so all he could do was take Leiber & Stoller's 'Riot In Cell Block #9', strip it of its lyrics and invent a new set that Mike thought was more actual at the time. Now I'm always for diversity, but let's not get carried away, right? A lone piece of metallized slow boogie among a sea of ballads and lightweight pop songs simply sticks out as a sore thumb, and ridiculous "politically conscious" lyrics don't really help matters.

Thankfully, it's the only true gaffe on an album otherwise filled up with tasty goodies. True, Surf's Up is maybe even more of a mess than its predecessor, especially since Dennis Wilson turns out to be on a creative slump and for obscure reasons - drug-induced ones, mayhaps? - doesn't have even a single contribution on here. He is "substituted" as "brother No. 2" by Carl, while Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston all demand their piece of pie as well. Brian's contributions, not necessarily the best on here but more likely so than not, only appear towards the very end of this short album, as if he intentionally wanted all of his stuff to be separated from his colleagues.

It is arguably this fact that explains the fans' tender treatment of Surf's Up: come on now, three Brian Wilson compositions in a row! And what thought-provoking compositions! 'A Day In The Life Of A Tree', co-written with Jack Rieley (and sung by Jack Rieley as well) is a slow majestic organ-based saga of... well, of one day in the life of a tree. (Is the title supposed to bear a hint at the Beatles' song that nearly cost Brian his sanity, I wonder?). 'Til I Die' is a... well, it's a slow majestic organ-based saga as well, only this time it sports the classic Beach Boys harmonies and a steady little rhythm that allows you to tap your foot as you inhale all those weird vibrations. Gloomy it may be, and yet... and yet it's so much in the Pet Sounds vibe that this is a bright kind of gloominess. And then, of course, there's the title track, which is one of B. Wilson's most elaborate baroque compositions since 1966, which is not a particular compliment because it was actually written in 1967. Yup, another Smile outtake, with enigmatic lyrics from Van Dyke Parks. It's a complex, intriguing three-part suite, with the last part actually taken from a different song called 'Child Is The Father Of The Man'. I won't say that the song arises to the heights of Brian's most spiritual earlier compositions, because it's just a bit too weird and complex for weirdness' and complexity's sake, but I'd be the last person to accuse Brian of "excessive blah-blah", and it's one of those tunes that grows on you slowly, puzzling and baffling you and wiggling its way under your skin.

That said, good as these three songs are - and they're very good, but don't raise me up to the ceiling - the three of them alone wouldn't have been able to save the record from the low rating rungs if everything else had just been one great dud. Fortunately, that is not the case. Two of Al Jardine's contributions are beyond lightweight - and I actually rate 'Don't Go Near The Water' as second worst song on here, with a nursery rhyme melody and primitive, trashy ecological lyrics - but 'Take A Load Off Your Feet' is kinda cute anyway, and his third song, 'Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)', with its mystical phased guitars and oddly treated vocal harmonies, works just fine. Even Johnston redeems himself for 'Tears In The Morning' with 'Disney Girls (1957)', a nostalgic sentimental ode that's probably corny as usual, but at least this time Bruce bothered to bother himself with writing a solid vocal melody, with plenty of small neat twists and mini-climaxes (don't you just love it when he goes... 'fantasy world and Dis-a-ney girls... I'm coming back...'?).

And finally, Carl's two songs take some time to appreciate, but in the end they do establish him as a worthy, if temporary, replacement for Dennis. 'Long Promised Road', in particular, which was even released as a single, is an uprising and deeply emotional tune that could have easily been written by Brian - I guess Brian would have added a few extra key changes to the vocal melodies, but then again, maybe not. And 'Feel Flows' is a near-pompous epic with gorgeous multi-tracked vocals and a strangely moving distorted guitar solo. Oh, and a lot of compelling flutework, too. You might be bothered by the lyrics - in both songs, they focus on quirky mystical themes - but the best solution is not to pay too much attention to the lyrics.

In all, the album's main flaw probably lies in its shortness. Ten songs that don't go over half an hour - how good is that? This ain't 1963, by Jesus! Plus, at least one or two of them fall under the "pap" category. How good is that? And lastly, what the heck is the matter with that album cover? Definitely the strangest album cover for a Beach Boys record so far. Now imagine this: you're in 1971, you come into a store and you see this guy on a horse in grey and green overtones. 'Hey', you wonder to yourself, 'is this really the new Beach Boys album? Either they went progressive or there's been some kinda mistake. Now where's that Alice Cooper section...'. Which explains why this record flopped, pure and simple. Nah. Of course I'm pulling your leg. This record flopped because the Beach Boys had gone out of fashion a long time ago. Just like guys on horses.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

One hell of a reinvention. Is it the Band or James Taylor they're trying to one-up here?

Best song: MARCELLA

Track listing: 1) You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone; 2) Here She Comes; 3) He Come Down; 4) Marcella; 5) Hold On Dear Brother; 6) Make It Good; 7) All This Is That; 8) Cuddle Up.

Huge changes occurred between the release of Surf's Up and this one. With Bruce Johnston temporarily out of the band and the backpack of Smile outtakes nearing total exhaustion (and no commercial success whatsoever), the Beach Boys were apparently on the verge of collapsing. Instead, in a desperate move they tried to recast themselves according to the 'spirit of the times', producing this totally atypical oddity - perhaps the best thing about this album is that it's easily the most unpredictable, most un-Beach Boys like record ever made by the band.

I mean, what the hell, it's not even a Beach Boys album - it's made by this here band called 'Carl And The Passions', see? 'Carl And The Passions' - as if the Beach Boys traded in their cheerful radiant well-harmonized pop music for gritty soulful R'n'B! And obviously, they're having trouble with it, too, which explains the album title (So Tough), so self-ironic it hurts. Out of the eight songs on the album, maybe only about three or four bear any similarity to what we came to typically associate with the Beach Boys. It's partly due to the inclusion of two new guys as full-time band members: Ricky Fataar on drums (providing complex rhythm and blues drumming which would certainly be a tough nut for Dennis to crack) and Blondie Chaplin on vocals and guitars. Not only do they play on all of the tracks, they also write two of them and plus, Chaplin shares vocals, both backing and lead, throughout. Mike Love haters will be glad to know that the man's presence on the record is almost drastically limited - it's Carl's and Blondie Chaplin's show, mostly, with an occasional flash from Brian and Dennis. Aw, well, I'm pretty sure myself Mike more than certainly does not hold the record in high esteem, so they're even.

Anyway, once you get adjusted to the idea of the Beach Boys shifting their passions, it's really not such a bad record, certainly not a ridiculous embarrassing monster of an album as it is sometimes pegged (it's usually the typical second point of "jumping the ship" for those non-diehard BB fans who haven't jumped it already on Smiley Smile). Certainly a record that contains the likes of 'Marcella' can't be all that bad - it's a great, catchy, uplifting pop song, and a true gem from under Brian's pen, with a couple original touches like a haunting Harrisonesque slide guitar solo, but otherwise a typical great Beach Boys number. Then there's the suite of three atmospheric ballads that closes the album - overlooked by many but, in my humble opinion, just as good (well, okay, almost as good) as any given succession of three Pet Sounds tracks. Two of these, 'Make It Good' and 'Cuddle Up', showcase the constantly growing talents of Dennis - and while they are orchestrated, there's still an amazingly fresh feel of them being totally stripped-down and just beautiful for their melodies, not because somebody spent a hell of a lot of time tinkling on Coke bottles. I mean, geez, half of 'Cuddle Up' is just Dennis singing and a minimalistic piano - and then the piano goes away and is replaced by a rhythmless orchestral swoop, and it works, all the time. And there's a certain squeaky raspiness about Dennis' voice that renders it more humane than the ones of his two brothers (okay, so Carl rasps a lot on the 'harder' numbers on here, but what I mean is the 'God Only Knows' kind of delivery).

The rest of the album is certainly patchy, though - it's not that the songs are so bad, it's just that the three ballads and 'Marcella' betray personality and the other four songs betray personality, if you get me a-driftin'. The R'n'B of "Carl And The Passions" just isn't all that interesting. They must have spent a lot of time listening to the roots-rock revival of the late Sixties/early Seventies, and so, before eventually settling on typical Seventies' tackiness with the pseudo-retro image of 15 Big Ones, decided to try their hand at country-rock, gospel-rock and what-not. Too bad the world already had a "The Band" to take care of these things, and so Chaplin and Fataar's 'Here She Comes', while certainly not melodyless, just won't register in your memory that well. Carl's 'He Come Down' is an utter disgrace, though, putting that marvelous opening piano line to total waste in an endless series of generic 'yeah, I believe it', and 'Hold On Dear Brother' might really have sounded better on a James Taylor album than it does on a Beach Boys one.

So, actually, there was just no need for such a transformation. The perspective of seeing the Beach Boys as a "rootsy" band isn't any more enlightening than seeing them as a harmless oldies act releasing endless self-rehashes like L.A. and suchlike. Elton John may have the record as a particular favourite of his (no wonder - there's so much piano on here!), but he's the only one, I guess. Even back in its time, the album baffled the recording company so much they decided to put it out as a double LP together with Pet Sounds, easily the most ridiculous marketing decision ever made. (I mean, it's like saying to the customer - "won't you please buy this shit and we'll give you something real good as a bonus!"). And given the fact that the Beach Boys never recorded a similar album again, you can tell they weren't too proud of the results themselves. Even if - and I repeat - this really isn't an album to be ashamed of. If anything, it's competent; just somewhat generic in spots and with very few really high points.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Almost strangely 'mature' for the Beach Boys... one can only wonder what caused the vicious descent into infantilism on their next album.


Track listing: 1) Sail On Sailor; 2) Steamboat; 3) California Saga/Big Sur; 4) California Saga/The Beaks Of Eagles; 5) California Saga/California; 6) The Trader; 7) Leaving This Town; 8) Only With You; 9) Funky Pretty; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Mt Vernon And Fairway (Theme); 11) I'm The Pied Piper (instrumental); 12) Better Get Back In Bed; 13) Magic Transistor Radio; 14) I'm The Pied Piper; 15) Radio King Dom.

An improvement. Its exact quality is hotly debatable among Beach Boys fans, with evaluation ranging from "late period peak" to "boring pompous garbage", which at least definitely means there's something to this album. The Chaplin/Fataar duo are still in the band, yet the approach has been "backshifted" again, with the rootsy sound all but gone and the band gone back to the more traditional lush-pop that they were still doing so damn well on their 1970-71 albums. The ambitious duo who probably thought they could do better than the Wilson trio are now limited to just one song, and even that one ('Leaving This Town') sounds much more in line with the Beach Boys than their two contributions on Carl And The Passions.

And the entire album just sounds mature. It's not exactly conceptual, like Pet Sounds, but, seeing as how it was actually recorded in Holland for the most part (guess what? - hence the title!), it's maybe no surprise that a lot of the songs deal lyrically with sea, sailing, travel, and trade, matters not altogether untypical for the Dutch environment. In the middle of these let's-take-a-trip (nothing to do with 'Let's Go Trippin'!', though!) songs, Mike Love and Al Jardine insert a ponderous, three-track long epic 'California Saga', which, amazingly, fits in pretty well. And as a result of all this, Holland, while melody-wise maybe far from the strongest Beach Boys album, sounds like a coherent and mature album. It certainly thrives to be "serious", just like Pet Sounds, and it certainly achieves that aim. This is no lightweight pop here, like on Wild Honey or any other late Sixties albums, and it's not a disjointed mess of half-brilliance half-filler like the 1970-71 albums (and I'm not even beginning to compare it to the oddball debacle of the 1972 album). It's the Beach Boys trying to convey a message - arguably, for the last time in their career. (Not that Love You was a bad album, but it had no message as far as I'm concerned, except that, well, the Beach Boys love you, bucko).

This, of course, means, that the songs will have to grow on you. Few non-Mike Love songs on here have immediately gripping hooks, because, well, the Beach Boys obviously did not want these gripping hooks. Even the single 'Sail On Sailor', which was actually written after Warner Bros. had originally refused to issue Holland unless it featured a song with hit single potential, really does not have that hit single potential (and sure enough, it stalled at #49). It's more like a relaxed, mid-tempo rumination on the life of a seaman with metaphoric connotations. You can, of course, sing along with the shouted 'sail on, sail on sailor!' chorus, but that's not exactly enough for the song to become a hit. But its vocal melody is pretty and soothing as well, even if it's actually sung by Blondie Chaplin, and then there's the arrangement, relying on slide guitars all over and a powerful synth background (on Holland, the Beach Boys first started to use synthesizers in earnest, taking their cue from Stevie Wonder more than anybody else).

Then there's 'Steamboat', which sets Carl's subtle vocal melody against a really weird arrangement (looping pseudo-industrial rhythm with heavy emphasis on the percussion and low-pitched, almost comic, backing vocals) and then counterpoints it with a crashing slide solo from guest star Tony Martin, who puts any previous attempts to "rock out" by the likes of Ed Carter to shame. 'The Trader' is a surprisingly angry anti-imperialist tirade from Carl, well-going and punchy, but, again, where the hell is the hook? No immediate hook, and looks like there was never to be one. There's just the power of the angry lead vocal versus the uplifting ethereal backing vocals versus the gritty pulsation of the Moog bass. Same with the "softer" second part of the song. 'Leaving This Town' is certainly sung by Blondie with more than a nod to Stevie Wonder, although it's still hardly an album highlight (and the lengthy Moog solo is a waste of tape). Carl again takes over on the pretty, untrivial love ballad 'Only With You', and Brian's weird 'Funky Pretty' closes the album on an unexpectably oddball note instead of an "epic" or overtly sentimental conclusion. Well, it is both funky (in parts) and pretty (in other parts), I guess.

Now don't think that I take this lack of hooks (in fact, lack of memorability) for granted. If the melodies on here were just as interesting as the ones on Pet Sounds, I'd have no problem calling this the best BB album ever. As it happens, I do have some of these problems: Holland is one of those records you can actually respect more than you can enjoy it. Perversely enough, it's only when the record ceases to be "respectable" that it becomes "enjoyable" - Mike Love's 'California Saga' is the most lightweight thing on the album, yet contains some of its most memorable parts. And plus, it's simple without being simplistic, and childish without being infantile - after listening to it, I'm totally amazed at how Mike could have the nerve to push the band into 15 Big Ones territory three years later. 'The Beaks Of Eagles' part is almost proggy in essence, when Mike recites the Robinson Jeffers poem over a background of mountaineering flutes before launching into the fun poppy upbeat section of the song. And the 'California' part, with its bubbling synth part, while too similar in form to 'California Girls'/'Help Me Rhonda' territory to suggest a totally new outburst of creativity, is still arguably the last time in Beach Boys history when they were able to write a shiny sunny surfin'-style ode and not come across as sullen nostalgia boys by any means. Maybe it's due to the silly bubbly bass. I dunno.

In any case, Holland scores, and it scores regardless of whether you prefer to treat that tacked-on EP called 'Mt Vernon And Fairway (A Fairy Tale)' as charming and hilarious or as annoying and dumb. It's a little "musical story" from Brian and his then-partner Jack Rieley, about a prince who discovers rock'n'roll radio on a magic transistor played by the mysterious pied piper (kinda like Pete Townshend's territory, eh?), and I find it a bit dippy for my own personal taste, although I certainly wouldn't mind little kids enjoying it, if that's possible. I am not sure, though, that it has so much importance that its inclusion on the Holland CD made it necessary for Capitol to turn the So Tough/Holland edition into a two-albums-on-two-CDs package instead of the usual cute little two-fer, though. Then again, maybe they just aren't sure that So Tough will ever sell on its own - just as they weren't sure of that in 1972.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

You may like it. I like it, too. I also think it's a vital link in the band's transformation into a corny oldies act.

Best song: [cut]

Track listing: 1) Sail On Sailor; 2) Sloop John B.; 3) The Trader; 4) You Still Believe In Me; 5) California Girls; 6) Darlin'; 7) Marcella; 8) Caroline No; 9) Leaving This Town; 10) Heroes And Villains; 11) Funky Pretty; 12) Let The Wind Blow; 13) Help Me Rhonda; 14) Surfer Girl; 15) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 16) We Got Love; 17) Don't Worry Baby; 18) Surfin' USA; 19) Good Vibrations; 20) Fun Fun Fun.

Speaking about unimaginative album titles... don't confuse this with the 1964 Concert album, because the two are like Heaven and Hell in stature. This here thing is much more slick and professional, not in the least due to the addition of Chaplin and Fataar (Dennis doesn't even drum on these recordings - although the liner notes excuse him by saying it was because of a hand-cutting accident), but about as exciting and arousing as the studio album that would follow three years later - that is, if you have actually heard Concert and know what the Beach Boys really sounded like in their true prime.

Well, no, of course, it ain't bad. Gosh, there's twenty tracks present and maybe just a couple out of them are mildly irritating - there's a bit too much stuff from Holland, for instance, and I'd rather have 'em do 'California Saga' in its entirety than having to hear yet another version of 'Leaving This Town'; replacing the Moog of the original with your basic Hammond organ doesn't help the track much, if you ask me. On the other hand, at least the Holland material ensures that the album doesn't sound like just a "greatest hits live" collection - which was actually one of the intentions, because the band was playing sort of a 'retrospective' setlist and you can find songs from all over tucked randomly into separate corners, from 'Surfin' 'USA' to 'Marcella'.

I'm really not sure if the band members are to be blamed for anything, though. Sure they couldn't perform like they did in 1964 because they weren't teenagers any more. (More like unwashed hoodlums, if you care to contemplate some of the Mike Love photos in the booklet). But then again, nobody forced them to do all these oldies. The studio versions of all the classic Sixties hits they're performing here would wash away the Holland material - but, perverse as it seems, I'd rather have 'em do Holland material and maybe obscure non-overplayed tracks off the albums they made in the last six years than anything pre-Wild Honey. You want an example? Sure you got one. The show starts with 'Sail On Sailor' - it's a real blast, it's energizing and uplifting, it maybe doesn't sound better than the original but it sure can compete. The band is inspired. Then - obviously, to follow a sailing song with another sailing song - the band, with a minimal break, launch into 'Sloop John B', and the excitement is gone. The harmonies are sloppy, the vocals keep jugglin' and jigglin' on top of each other, and the tempo is frantically sped up as if they were catapulting themselves into a drunken jig or something. Not to mention the cheesy wheezy synth lines supporting the guitar, or Mike Love's Caribbean accent on a couple lines. All these little things combine into one major impression - the Beach Boys are becoming tacky.

And careless. To be frank, I don't much care about intentionally singing out of tune, or intentionally destroying the impeccable vocal harmony thing. I don't care much about "rockifying" songs like 'Help Me Rhonda' - just because you put a little bit of distortion on the guitar, that doesn't make it "hard", you know. I don't care for Al Jardine totally screwing up the vocal melody of the song as if he just can't sing or something. Occasionally, they pull their stuff together and blow your mind out - 'Surfer Girl', for instance, reinstates your faith in the band just as 'Help Me Rhonda' managed to all but annihilate it. But then they go and turn the "quiet" section in 'Good Vibrations' into even more of a singalong than it was on Live In London by having Ricky Fataar actually drum up a rhythm during that part - so that the audience had a better capacity of headbanging to it?

Oh well, at least Mike Love doesn't make any corny jokes this time. But then again, corniness in your jokes might be easier to swallow than corniness in your music. In their already mentioned prime, the Beach Boys live kicked a lot of ass and had a lot of fun, but the Beach Boys were never the clowns of their work - not even when singing stuff like 'Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow'. They were young kids having kiddy fun on stage, that was great. When you have these grown up guys with beards and egos and ten years of experience behind their back and they do these lame "kiddy fun" pranks, it just ain't funny.

You might actually think I'm being too bitchy upon first listen - because really, the kind of pranking I've written about occurs in less than half the tracks, actually, and there's plenty of solid stuff on here (there's even one song that you won't find anywhere else, a rejected Holland outtake called 'We Got Love' - it's nothing to write home about, though, and written by the Chaplin/Fataar team, too). But I think I'm justified in my bitching because, after all, if I have to own a Beach Boys live album, I have to be goddamn sure I have a friggin' serious reason to do that. None of the songs here are better than the studio originals, after all, and when I try to dig in and see what makes the album "special", I only find this clowny attitude. That sure ain't no consolation.

In conclusion, if you really wanna own a BB live album, I'd recommend the Concert/Live In London two-fer instead - the first album is great, the second one offers a more serious and sober approach than In Concert, although you'll have to tackle all those corny jokes anyway. If you can't get that twofer, well, go for this album instead. Maybe professionalism is what you're after, in which case you can't go wrong with a Fataar/Chaplin lineup set of performances. I guess.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

I bet you ANYTHING this album could have been a nostalgic masterpiece. As it is, it's a nostalgic cornball.

Best song: TALK TO ME

Track listing: 1) Rock And Roll Music; 2) It's OK; 3) Had To Phone Ya; 4) Chapel Of Love; 5) Everyone's In Love With You; 6) Talk To Me; 7) That Same Song; 8) TM Song; 9) Palisades Park; 10) Susie Cincinnati; 11) A Casual Look; 12) Blueberry Hill; 13) Back Home; 14) In The Still Of The Night; 15) Just Once In My Life.

I presume the title refers to the amount of booze they had to shove down Brian's throat to get him to sign his producer's credits on the record (a hypothesis further confirmed by the state of his vocals on all the tracks where he sings lead). Because the songs are actually very small, in the two - two and a half minutes range normally. A nod to the Ramones this ain't, though.

Apparently, by the time the band recorded Holland, both Dennis and Carl had pretty much run out of creative steam - at least, lost enough of it to warrant major creative control on the next album. So for three years the band essentially did nothing apart from occasional touring and helping old friends like Elton John on backing vocals, until Warner suddenly discovered that the Beach Boys hadn't made a studio record in a hell of a long time and then there was this contract thing and you know the rest. Anyway, the company persuaded the band to get Brian out of his seclusion, market the "extraction" as equal to the band's creative rejuvenation and go ahead that way. And that's what they did.

The only thing I can suggest is that Brian was simply way too weak and feeble-willed to allow himself to be "entrapped" in that way and have his name so closely linked to the making of 15 Big Ones. Or maybe he was feeling guilty about his 'betraying' the band for so long. Or both. Or something else. The fact is, and it's a pretty weird fact, that 15 Big Ones, however you look at it, has very little to do with Brian Wilson the creative artist as we know him. True, the majority of these songs are credited to the Wilson/Love songwriting team, just like in the good old days. But if Brian really wrote these songs, he most certainly wrote only the skeletons of these melodies. And true, the record says 'produced by Brian Wilson', but, er, can you really prove that he did? Listen to Brian's "production" (or, rather, a total lack of it) on the subsequent Love You - this is certainly what he was capable of after more than half a decade of lurking inside his house. But chimes and bells? Slick lounge jazz horns? Las Vegas vocal harmonies? Brian Wilson simply could not do those things at the time.

This is Mike's show all the way, baby. I can sort of understand the guy, though. Obviously, he was annoyed at the fact that early Seventies Beach Boys albums were downplaying his role so much, and this was his chance to wrestle the situation under his own eternal control. He could wave the half-alive bearded bodyweight of Brian as a banner ('Brian is back!') and use it as the conductor for his own conception of the band. And it's not like my opinion of Mr Love is so low I'm trying to present him as this evil Machiavellian kind of plotter guy. It might even be that he acted with the best possible intentions - he wanted the band to become popular and a vital commercial force again (no harm in that), and he also desperately wanted to get back to the kind of simple, life-loving, shiny unpretentious pop music they were making before Pet Sounds came along (no harm in that either - as stuff like 'Do It Again' proved seven years before that).

Unfortunately, his intentions, good or bad, misfired, resulting in the band's weakest Seventies album. I don't think anybody ever doubted the fact that 15 Big Ones is an intentional attempt to sound as nostalgic as possible, going back to the Beach Boys' early period and their rockabilly, doo-wop and Phil Spector roots. I also don't think anybody ever doubted that the album sounds anything but nostalgic, taking old and "archaic" melodies and drenching them in the sea of corny Seventies MOR production. There are no classic Beach Boys harmonies on here. No fresh ringing guitars. Sappy orchestration and corny cocktail jazz horns are the norm of the day - some of the songs could be confused with Barry Manilow, except that Barry at least has a good singing voice, whereas it seems like all of the Beach Boys except for the ever-healthy Mike had caught collective bronchitis on the day they went into the studio.

Corny production plus hideous vocals from the world's one-time number one vocal band = very much close to shit. That said, I'm a little bit more forgiving of the record than your average critic, once I get to overlook the obvious problems as well as the painful realisation that all the 'Brian-less' basis elaborately built up by flawed, but artistically valid records like Surf's Up and Holland has gone to shit in the matter of one recording session. Looking towards the actual melodies, I find them. I find them in many places. I find them in the covers - no, not on the opening disgraceful pop-jazzified horror of 'Rock And Roll Music' (which has nothing to do with rock and roll music), but in Phil Spector covers like 'Chapel Of Love' (corny, but great chord changes nevertheless!) and 'Just Once In My Life', or in the funny 'Palisades Park', or in Seneca's 'Talk To Me', Carl's one true moment of brilliance on the album and easily the best song of the bunch just because the vocals are so utterly gorgeous.

I also find them in the originals. Do you vomit when 'It's OK' comes along? Probably not, and that's because the song has a solid pair of hooks sticking right out at ya. The horns can be cheesy. The little bits of synth playing can be too, even if they actually predict the Cars. But gimme a fresh soundin' electric guitar and I'll cook you up a classy arrangement without all the horns and synths and what-not, and you'll get a lightweight, throwawayish, but utterly charming pop song. Listen to 'TM Song' ('TM', of course, stands for 'transcendental meditation'). Can't imagine it on Smiley Smile or Friends? Sure you can. Even Al's song, 'Susie Cincinnati', is a lot of fun, although that one was actually a long-time reject from around the time of Sunflower. Brian's 'Back Home'? Get the man a spare throat, put him in a better mood (those hey-heys and whoohoos at the end sound downright pathetic), and you have something there. In fact, the only hopeless song on the entire album is Mike's 'Everyone's In Love With You' - spare us your conversations with the Lord, Mike, you can't even make a decent joke onstage.

In other words, this album could have been better. It's also an album that you can eventually get used to. The biggest problem, of course, is that you don't really have to get used to it. 15 Big Ones is supposed to be the Beach Boys' Seventies' equivalent to All Summer Long. Since it's so obviously inferior, I can't see anybody who is not an active fan of the tackiest Seventies stuff veneering this record. Geez, we even get to see Brian's hairy chest on the front cover. And the band in Olympic rings? All bearded and glammy? Way to go, kid!



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Imagine a one-man "Smiley Smile" drenched in synths, but so much more fleshed out?

Best song: GOOD TIME

Track listing: 1) Let Us Go On This Way; 2) Roller Skating Child; 3) Mona; 4) Johnny Carson; 5) Good Time; 6) Honkin' Down The Highway; 7) Ding Dang; 8) Solar System; 9) The Night Was So Young; 10) I'll Bet He's Nice; 11) Let's Put Our Hearts Together; 12) I Wanna Pick You Up; 13) Airplane; 14) Love Is A Woman.

Humanity is one big fuck. "Brian Is Back!", everybody was shouting when what was really back was a manipulated zombie clone of Brian; yet for some reason, when this album came out - and the true Brian finally made his last appearance on a Beach Boys record - nobody felt the need to shout any more. In fact, just like 15 Big Ones was panned for cheesiness, lack of originality, and hoarse vocalizing, so was Love You initially critically dismissed for being way too juvenile, shallow and underproduced. Well... so it was. But who cares?

Fact is, Love You couldn't be more different from its predecessor; the only thing that unites them is that some of the better Brian-penned melodies on Big Ones certainly come from the same ballpark as the songs on Love You. But this time, nobody fucks 'em up. In fact, the secret of this record is that it was originally supposed to be a Brian solo offering (called "Brian Wilson Loves You"), where he would be able to do as he please. Eventually, though, probably suspecting that he was treasuring his best stuff for that solo album (which he, indeed, was), the rest of the band - or should we just say Mike? - convinced him to release all these songs under the "Beach Boys" moniker. Again, whether this thing was honest or dishonest doesn't matter; what matters is that it was arguably the last artistically sensible decision the Beach Boys as a band had taken in their career.

Because the Beach Boys would never again make a record like Love You. The resulting product sounds a bit too close to the brief scattered experimental snippets of Smiley Smile, and everybody knows that was the album that started the band's commercial decline. Love You is way too personal, too Brian-esque, to conform to the band's being recast as a corny oldies act at the time. At first glance, you could say they are continuing the way of 15 Big Ones - this time, there are fourteen songs in whole, all of 'em short, some of them "rockers" that don't really rock, some of them ballads that don't really glow with lyrical genius (pretty much every love song on the album contains nothing but pedestrian cliches, a far cry from the introspection of Pet Sounds indeed).

But the songs are good! Every single song is good. They got hooks and great key changes. Unexpected melody shifts. Diversity of atmosphere. And where in a different world their being so dreadfully underproduced might have caused you to puke, after the Manilow-isms of 15 Big Ones Brian's arrangements, mainly based on drums, monstruously fat synth bass, and organ, seem like a last-time gulp of fresh air. In fact, most of the songs sound like half-fleshed out demos, but they are not: obviously, Brian wanted the songs to sound that way. And they're not demos. It's just a special way of production.

Like Today!, the album is divided into a "bouncier" first half and a "mellower" second one. Of course, the 'bouncy' half is nowhere near what we think of as bouncy in reliance to the Beach Boys. An energized yelp opens 'Let Us Go On This Way', and you're greeted with a rudimentary (but very loud) drum rhythm, synth bass that gives the song sort of an industrial flavour, three or four organ chords in the background (that's, uh, the main melody), a couple brass notes (these would be the "overdubs"!), and a gritty hoarse vocal delivery interspersed with more traditional Beach Boys vocal harmonies. And it all works - there are hooks, there are unpredictabilities in the development (and the tune is two minutes long, right?).

'Roller Skating Child' is one of those songs that could have suited 15 Big Ones - but not with more of that synth bass by no means! Brian's arrangements breathe life into those tunes where Mike's arrangements were sucking it out of them. Brian's hoarse vocals may be particularly grating on 'Mona', but that doesn't mean the looping structure of the song, replete with church bells and horns that evade any possible tackiness, isn't pure genius. And his rumination on 'Johnny Carson', for once free of the general atmosphere of mental uncertainty and frailty of the album, has no analogies in the Beach Boys catalog. The way it alternates between the quiet drumless piano part and the faster singalong parts is just so goddamn natural and exciting. 'Who's the man that we admire? Johnny Carson is a real live wire!' gives me the hoodwinkles every time, whatever that would mean.

I won't dwell on every song, but highlights abound on here anyway. My personal favourite is the old 1970 leftover 'Good Time' - unsurprisingly, featuring the best, cleanest Brian vocal performance on the album, giving you somewhat of an unpleasant contrast between the old and the new - but maybe it's just due to the song's "outstanding" role (and the fact that the chorus of the song is a marvelous reminiscence of the angelic gorgeousness of years gone by). But don't take that at the expense of 'Honkin' Down The Highway', the album's "driving song", with marvelous descending vocal lines in the verses; or at the expense of Brian's collaboration with Roger McGuinn, 'Ding Dang', with the best 'comic' vocal harmonies of the band's career; or at the expense of any of those ballads in the second half.

The ballads do suffer from extreme shallowness, of course; when I look at these songs and compare them with "happenings ten years time ago", I can't help but compare the situation with Ray Davies' degradation in the Seventies from one of the wittiest "portraitist" of his generation to a cliche-driven self-repetitor. But what helps out here is that the melodies are still great - underdeveloped, underproduced, but still based on mind-blowing note sequences; and besides, at least Brian has an excuse, given his lengthy period of physical and moral decay. Maybe these songs aren't the pinnacle of Beach Boys sophistication, but they're certainly heartfelt and they're certainly indicative of Brian's state of mind at the time: fragile, paranoid, maybe even "atrophied" in certain respects, but at the same time honest, gentle, and loving. It's like a record made by somebody convalescing from a long-time mental illness... and, well, I guess it is. Listen to 'I'll Bet He's Nice', for instance, or to Brian's duet with his wife Marilyn on 'Let's Put Our Hearts Together'. Simplistic? But oh so enchanting. And it's even nicer when Dennis, fully understanding the kind of atmosphere his brother was in, delivers a very similar "hoarse, but endearing" vocal part on the half-love song, half-lullaby 'I Wanna Pick You Up' (with yet another totally unbeatable melody).

All in all, it's an album that grows on you (I remember being completely disgusted upon first listen), and in some ways, even more of an anomaly in the Beach Boys catalog than Carl And The Passions. Fortunately, it is now finally starting to get the necessary dose of critical and artistic respect which was, for a long time, denied to it mainly due to the hideous timing of release; sandwiched in between 15 Big Ones and M.I.U. Album, it never really stood a chance. From now on, though, the band would be playing it safe and sound.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Err... back to the roots. An album to dance to, and an album to twirl your nose to?

Best song: I. Do. Not. Know.

Track listing: 1) She's Got Rhythm; 2) Come Go With Me; 3) Hey Little Tomboy; 4) Kona Coast; 5) Peggy Sue; 6) Wontcha Come Out Tonight?; 7) Sweet Sunday; 8) Belles Of Paris; 9) Pitter Patter; 10) My Diane; 11) Match Point Of Our Love; 12) Winds Of Change.

M.I.U. Album (who's responsible for those horrendous titles anyway? Apparently, this one stands for Maharishi International University Album) initiates what has been universally recognized as the last and worst streak of Beach Boys albums (which actually started with 15 Big Ones, but then got unexpectedly disrupted by Love You), the one that transformed them into a cheap cash-in nostalgia outfit and will forever remain as a serious blemish on their reputation. These complaints are definitely understandable: neither this nor any of the following records don't even pretend to have the least 'serious' value, presenting the Beach Boys as little more than a decent simplistic pop band. They are for the most part 'controlled' by Mike Love, with Brian Wilson more of a faceless symbol than anything else, and obviously can't hold a candle to the Beachers' classic records.

That said, what the hell is with all the people who bash the very hell out of these records? Come on now, people, they're not that bad. At least they lack the totally hideous Vegasy overproduction of 15 Big Ones, which helps them sound fresher and - sometimes - less predictable. Yes, the Beach Boys are back to their roots, doing limp surf rock numbers and unimaginative ballads; but hey, that's what they used to do in 1963-65, and nobody blamed them for that, or at least, the atmosphere was kinda milder. M.I.U. Album, in particular, is hardly any worse than any of the Beach Boys' first three albums - yes, it's a dropdown, but that's why I give it a 'mediocre' rating. But no lower. The songs are good.

Except for the second side, that is, which mostly blows. But let's just take a look from the very beginning. 'She's Got Rhythm' is a great surf-pop track reminiscent of many of the boys' early semi-classics, with an immediately recognizable falsetto from Bryan and a super-duper catchy melody. Okay, so the song is written in 1978; but would you want to say that the same old semi-classics were more 'revolutionary' in 1964? The Beach Boys didn't invent surf rock, for Chrissake! They were just the best in the genre, and judging by the quality of these here songs, they still were by 1978. 'Come Go With Me'? More of the same, cool vocal harmonies and a great looping melody. 'Hey Little Tomboy' is a minor gem, said to be an old Brian-penned Holland outtake. Cozy and strangely endearing in its sentimentality, with a moving 'dialogue' between Brian and Mike Love. 'Kona Coast' is cheesy, isn't it? A cheap cash-in on 'Hawaii', eh? Well, yes, of course it is, but I could care less. All I see is a catchy and cute melody, made just a wee bit sleazy by the fact that they so shamelessly make Brian imitate the 'Hawa-a-a-a-iii' vocal harmonies of that early classic. Okay, I can disregard that.

The cover of 'Peggy Sue'? It probably sucks big time, doesn't it? Probably does, but I couldn't explain why. It's one of Buddy Holly's best songs, and the Beach Boys do it perfect justice. Yes, many people have done it justice already, but so friggin' dang what? It still rules. 'Wontcha Come Out Tonight?' Okay, that one irks me a bit with the stupid croaking harmonies ('kama kama kamaut tonahte'), but otherwise, I've heard Beach Boys sing far worse songs in the past. Bah.

Okay, so problems start on the second side. For some reason, they collected all those trashy, sappy ballads and heaped them onto the second side - maybe they hoped the critics who were to give positive reviews to the record would never get to the second side anyway. Only 'Pitter Patter' qualifies on there, a somewhat out of place pop-rocker with cool rain-imitating vocal harmonies and a nice keyboard drive. Oh, and probably 'My Diane' as well, Dennis Wilson's only contribution to the album, both creatively and vocally. It lacks this cheap sentimentality and tepid strings that tend to ruin everything else. Even so, I can see how stuff like 'Sweet Sunday' and 'Match Point Of Our Love' could be tolerable; the only real stinkers on the record, in my humble opinion, are 'Belles Of Paris', with absolutely hideous lyrics about 'romancing in Paris', full of trite 'sightseeing' cliches, and a near complete lack of interesting melodies (Mike Love should definitely stay away from French pop influences!), and the album-closing 'Winds Of Change', another piece of strings-laden 'emotional' junk. Perhaps they should have given that last track to Karen Carpenter - it might have benefited from her voice. Then again, maybe not.

Anyway, let's just throw away the stuff I call "Selfportrait complex": lower your expectations significantly and you'll come to like this record. If not for the stinkers on the second side, it would have been an easy strong ten. As it is, it's an equally strong nine. I can't believe certain reviewers gave it something like one and a half stars. When are we people starting to judge the records by their actual melodic strength, not by our expectations? In a hundred years' time, when the still active distance between the years 1962 and 1978 will have been effaced, nobody will be able to tell the difference between Surfin' USA and M.I.U. Album, provided that people will still be listening to the Beach Boys, of course (and I'm an optimist). Of course, it is a pity to realize that Brian Wilson was so creatively washed-up he was no longer able to control things around, and it's a pity to realize that the Beach Boys were just about the first band in their generation to 'sink' so low from the once high sphere they were occupying (while, for instance, the Stones, the Who and the ex-Beatles were still going very strong), but that don't give us no right to condemn albums like these to the wastebasket without even bothering to give them a fair listen. Figures.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Disco and Nippon packaged together. Some find it offensive, BUT...

Best song: SUMAHAMA

Track listing: 1) Good Timin'; 2) Lady Lynda; 3) Full Sail; 4) Angel Come Home; 5) Love Surrounds Me; 6) Sumahama; 7) Here Comes The Night; 8) Baby Blue; 9) Goin' South; 10) Shortenin' Bread.

Gonna be defendin' this one, too, to my very last breath. Yeah, I'm perfectly aware that L.A. is often taken on by critics and fans as just about the absolute nadir of the Beach Boys' career, but see, I'm actually rating records primarily according to their melodic strength, not according to various socially tinged prejudices. And so far, I've been relatively pleased with L.A.: it has its share of stuff that never gets me high, but it has its share of solid material as well.

The funny thing is, although both this one and M.I.U. receive absolutely the same rating, they are, in fact, very much different from each other. Just about the only thing they have in common is the abysmal 'entitling principle' - who the hell needs these abbreviations? Is it supposed to look like newspaper issues or what? Oh thank you very much, mister Love, that you have at least bothered to explain the abbreviature for us - probably so that the fans and critics wouldn't be wanting to decipher 'L.A.' as 'Lousy Album' and keep that title forever. Eh?

When, in fact, it ain't that lousy at all. The big news is that this time around, there's not even a single true embarrassment on this record, nothing in the pitiful caliber of 'Belles Of Paris' or 'Winds Of Change' from the last record. The bad news, then, is that there are far fewer peaks - most of the songs are mediocre at the very best, and not too memorable. Two people are responsible for the most part of the record: Dennis Wilson and Mike Love (apparently, Brian was completely burned out this time - his presence on the album is next to none). Dennis Wilson comes up to the front with some more of these soulful ballads, and none of them can really hold a candle to 'My Diane'. I have come to really appreciate his hoarse, gruff voice, so untypical for a Beach Boy, and the passion and non-cheap sentimentality of 'Angel Come Home' and the Carl-penned/Dennis-sung 'Love Surrounds Me' really saves them from ruin, but I miss the hooks - all the rhythmic synthesizer passages and generic, routine, bland harmonies can't compensate for the traditional headspinning you experience from listening to a classic BB ballad. Atmospheric, for sure, and sometimes even tear-bringing, but try to remember them once they're gone, and you're bound to fail.

This leaves us with Mike Love, who contributes one of the most unjustly ridiculed songs in the entire Beach Boys catalog: 'Sumahama'. Okay, I know I am now approaching the sacred altar of web reviewing and putting all of my credibility on it, but dammit, I'll still go ahead and say it: the song is a musical masterpiece, and easily the best, most inspired, catchy and effective blending of classic 'surf-pop' with traditional Japanese motives. And don't you mention me no fuckin' 'guilty pleasures'. A 'guilty pleasure' is a bad, dumb, melodyless song that manages to hit your senses nevertheless - something by Kiss, perhaps? 'Sumahama' features an impeccable melody and a terrific, complex, well-working arrangement. Sure, it's not something we'd come to expect from the Beach Boys, right? That's why we all despise the song. Hah hah. Cast off your prejudices and revel in Mike Love's bizarre fantasies. The only thing that bugs me is the lyrics - I guess formally he's still continuing with that 'romantic travelogue' vibe of 'Belles Of Paris', and the faux-Japanese thematics of the song is laughable. Perhaps it would have been a better idea if he'd agreed to sing the entire song in Japanese, not just one of the verses.

Elsewhere, Brian contributes one really solid number - 'Good Timin', a classic, if not tremendously memorable, ballad with all the harmonies in place - and then the album ends on a goofy, hilarious note with the traditional folkie ditty 'Shortenin' Bread'. Plus, let's not forget Al Jardine's lovely tribute to his wife - 'Lady Lynda' is also a highlight; I've read that the main melody of the song was lifted from Bach (!), but hey, so was 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale', after all. In fact, 'Lady Lynda', 'Sumahama' and the fact that none of the other songs are truly bad nearly drove me to giving the album a 10, but if you have already heard the record, you probably can guess what led me to diminishing the rating by one point.

Yeah, that's right. Whoever needs a ten-minute disco version of 'Here Comes The Night' from Wild Honey? And may I ask why it was so necessary for the Beach Boys to jump on the disco bandwagon as late as 1979, when the fad was already on its way out? And in such an uncompromised way? I mean, okay, if they really wanted to present their younger fans with some contemporary rhythms, why not record an entire toss-off record of disco tunes and specially subtitle it 'NOT FOR THE SENSITIVE ONES'? And we could all have been spared this horror. No, I don't have anything against disco as a whole, and moreover, I have definitely heard worse disco exercises than this one; but ten minutes of rather uninspiring disco rhythms in the middle of a ballad-filled Beach Boys album isn't exactly my idea of having a good time. Am I supposed to jump out of my chair and work my hips for ten minutes, only to sink back at the end of the track and relaxate to the sound of more ballads coming in? What a stupid, moronic idea.

That said, what a great idea for Capitol to make all these 2-fer releases. You know how this one, M.I.U./L.A. is considered the worst seventy minutes of the Beach Boys? Well now, trim it - throw out 'Here Comes The Night', 'Belles Of Paris', 'Winds Of Change' and two or three more songs of those that you despise particularly, and hey, you might have something there... Ah well.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

The Beach Boys go Dorky. Not synth-heavy, not electronic, not trendy - just Dorky.


Track listing: 1) Keepin' The Summer Alive; 2) Oh Darling; 3) Some Of Your Love; 4) Livin' With A Heartache; 5) School Day (Ring Ring Goes The Bell); 6) Goin' On; 7) Sunshine; 8) When Girls Get Together; 9) Santa Ana Winds; 10) Endless Harmony.

Okay, even my tolerance isn't as immeasurable as it may seem. I ain't gonna stand up for that one, because there's not that much to stand up for. This is arguably the first Beach Boys album on which EVERY song sucks. EVERY one. I didn't believe it was possible, but it is. The best I can say is that there are moments, you know, as in 'that little neat vocal twist at 2:33 into the song', moments that can be funny or inspired; but if I were to compose an anthology of late period Beach Boys, I would have betrayed historical truth and simply not mention this album's existence at all. At all.

Why should I? The Wilsons are hardly engaged here at all. The main stars of the album are Bruce Johnston, who produced the album in the ugliest way possible; Mike Love, who simply couldn't recognize a good melody unless it flew out of a Japanese inspiration; and - drumroll - Randy Bachman (YES!!!!), who is the co-writer of two of the songs on here. You know something's wrong when the Beach Boys have to resort to Bachman collaborations in order to fill up an album. It goes without saying that Brian is hardly responsible for anything on here, of course.

To make matters worse, not only are most of the songs atrocious, the overall sound of the album kinda puts me in stupor. It sounds nothing like the two records before it, completely devoid of the normal Beach Boys harmonies and relying more on stupid keyboards than guitars. Yet it is in no way 'contemporary' - the Beach Boys, having scaled the depths of disgrace with 'Here Comes The Night', completely abandon any attempts at incorporating disco or synth-pop or, well, anything that would be recognizable as 'Eighties'. Perhaps, if only they had been more inspired, this would have been a salvation. As it is, Keepin' The Summer Alive should better be retitled Keepin' Primitive Retro Radio Fodder Alive - this is not even 'teenpop', this is just a big bunch of stupidity. And I won't even concentrate on the endless sarcastic remarks concerning the album cover: the Beach Boys in a bubble? They sign the formal paper self-isolating themselves from everything. Geez, now that's embarrassing.

I don't even know where to begin describing these 'songs' (aka 'worthless piles of simplistic doggone crap'). The fact that they put a cover of Chuck Berry's 'School Day' at the very middle of the album is nothing less than a tasteless insult to the old master - it might not be the Beach Boys' worst cover ever (at any rate, it's not any worse than Paul McCartney putting out all those oldies' albums), but sandwiched in between this RAOR (as in, 'retro AOR') sludge it just can't get any worse. Hell, to the left of it is the Bachman-Wilson penned 'Livin' With A Heartache', a generic two-chord four-minute bore that could have just as well been penned by a four-year old, and to the right is Mike Love's 'Goin' On', an equally generic R'n'B sendup that just concentrates on those weedy keyboards and pseudo-Beach Boys harmonies. Hey, the All-Music Guide called this a 'Beach Boys-soundalike' album, but I must vehemently disagree: M.I.U. was a 'Beach Boys soundalike' album, this one just sounds nothing like the Beach Boys. Actually, it sounds nothing like any kind of music I enjoy listening to.

Let me now explain what it actually gets a three, not a one, for. There are moments. Moments. Like the moments in 'Some Of Your Love', where something funny and joyful is really going on. No, the song is no great shakes, it's just about the closest to a 'Beach Boys-soundalike' track on here, although I could easily do without the corny trumpet. Then there's 'Santa Ana Winds', which is completely forgettable on a large scale, but it at least has some guitar, a few nice harmonica lines and unobtrusive orchestration. 'Oh Darlin' and 'Sunshine' aren't offensive, either, although I can't remember how any one of them goes.

But even these weak efforts all come to a dead halt when you have to deal with something as uncompromisingly dumb as the title track, or such a horrendous piece of faeces as 'When Girls Get Together', or Bruce Johnston's adult contemporary anthem 'Endless Harmony'... ewww, yyuck. Did Brian really write the lyrics to any of these songs? Did he do that while in a completely comatose condition, with Mr Love trailing his hand over a piece of paper? Whatever. I just have to assume that neither of the Wilsons really cared about the band's future or reputation at that point, and Johnston and Love never gave a hoot in the first place. Did they really think that somebody might actually go out and, like you know, invest his or her hard-earned cash in this tripe? It was absolutely unfit for those who loved well-written music, equally unsuitable for those who were after the contemporary fashionable sound, and just as unacceptable for those who were just hunting for some retro tunes like 'She's Got Rhythm' or something. Only the most desperate diehard Beach Boys fan could, or can, find any interest in a record like this. Predictably, it was a dead flop, and mercifully put the Beach Boys' further experience on a halt... for five years.



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

The last gap of decency - cut through the production and that's dem Beach Boys, for sure!

Best song: GETCHA BACK

Track listing: 1) Getcha Back; 2) It's Gettin' Late; 3) Crack At Your Love; 4) Maybe I Don't Know; 5) She Believes In Love; 6) California Calling; 7) Passing Friend; 8) I'm So Lonely; 9) Where I Belong; 10) I Do Love You; 11) It's Just A Matter Of Time; 12) Male Ego.

Now you may not believe me when I tell it, but hey, it's a good Beach Boys album. Take some time, listen to this, understand this: it's 1985, for God's sake, and it's a good Beach Boys album. Not just a huge step up from the atrocity of Keepin' The Summer Alive; more than that, an album full of songs that really demonstrate that during these five years the Beach Boys weren't idle; they were busy. Unfortunately, some of them were busy with drowning (R.I.P., Dennis - you are sorely missed on the album!), but most had better things to care about.

Why then such a low rating? I don't know. I almost wanted to give it a 6, but then I understood that'd make it on par with M.I.U. and L.A. and I couldn't quite do that. See, the songwriting is pretty decent. The harmonies are back - the harmonies on this album are excellent. Everything else sucks. Steve Levine comes onboard to contribute some trademark Eighties' production, and everything is awash in stupid bleep-bloopin' synths, electronically enhanced drums and generic horn parts. I don't know who contributes the guitar solos in 'Maybe I Don't Know', but whoever it is, I'd easily have him throttled. I just hope it wasn't a guitar great like Gary Moore or somebody like that - immaculate technique, blandest and most generic effect ever. Blah.

In other words, had they been able to teleport, like, twenty years back and perform all these songs in another epoch, the rating would fly away to heaven. As such, no cigar. But don't worry; the main thing to understand is that you must give the album two or three listens before pronouncing judgement. It was a horrible, totally undistinguishable mess at first, but then the sun appeared and the birds started singing, if I might use a particularly juvenile and unbearably cliched metaphor. Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson, and Mike Love, all three of them, write good melodies. I don't even loathe the traditionally loathed Bruce Johnston contribution, 'She Believes In Love Again' - sure it's mid-tempo hookless adult contemporary, but it's hardly as hookless as you'd want me to believe. The way Bruce sings 'she believes in love again, she believes in me', is definitely a cutely placed vocal hook. Hah! I gotcha!

The funny thing is that somebody had the boys throw on two covers, and they're the worst of the lot. Boy George's 'Passing Friend' drags on for five minutes which is at least four minutes too much - I can't stand that monotonous synth-based crawl. And none other than Stevie Wonder embarrasses himself with a 'Isn't She Lovely'-wannabe song called, er, 'I Do Love You'. Stevie himself guests on the song, contributing harmonica, but that's small consolation. Pathetic, particularly considering that Stevie actually wasn't in such a critical state at the time... guess he was just kind enough to leave the scraps to the Beach Boys, thinking they'd never be able to make a good album anyway. Man was he wrong.

Because the other songs all qualify, that is, when stripped of their rotten synthy carcasses. Mike Love contributes the anthemic irresistable single 'Getcha Back', spoiled by electronic drums and a rather strange way of vocal-mixing, but restored to life with the coolest of Brian's falsetto deliveries and a vocal melody that's definitely in the 'nostalgic' category, but what would you expect from these guys? Hair metal? Mike also works with Brian on the closing 'Male Ego', a funny pop rocker that closes the record on an endearing note (instead of sappy dreck like 'Endless Harmony').

Meanwhile, Brian himself teams up with his therapist Gene Landy and writes strange tunes like 'I'm So Lonely', where he sings about being so lonely but the song's cheerful mood doesn't actually support the idea... well, at least Brian writes some thought-provoking songs. Nice song. 'It's Just A Matter Of Time' is a bit too... monotonous? plodding? pick your favourite thesaurus entry?.. but its moody, harmony-drenched atmosphere is something the Beach Boys hadn't been able to produce for quite a long time now.

Carl also is at the top of his game, with the gorgeous singing on 'Where I Belong' and 'It's Gettin' Late' - the latter is a particularly great song, perfect in its romantic, lush mood, but also butchered through idiotic production. In fact, the only Beach Boy-penned songs on here that don't quite suit my good ratings criteria are the corny 'Crack At Your Love' (sometimes cheesy synths and stupid drumbeats ARE enough to completely spoil a song, particularly if the song isn't breathtaking by itself) and 'California Calling', which is just WAY too nostalgic, even borrowing the harmony tricks from 'Help Me Rhonda'. The first loses through ugliness, the second loses through brutal commercialism. Is it enough to spoil the album? Hardly.

I'm still torn over the exact numeric equivalent of this record, but hey, whatever. Numbers are numbers. They're cold and they want to be absolute, and an album's rating is always relative. I suppose you get the picture, anyway: good, if unspectacular, songs, seriously ruined by cheap glossy production. This makes the reissue of Keepin' The Summer Alive and this album as a 2-fer CD at least somewhat sensible. Too bad the guys couldn't hold on for too long or completely regain their senses: had they gotten rid of the goddamn producer and gathered their forces for a second round, the fans could have rejoiced.



Year Of Release: 1995

Either a bunch of crappy surf muzak or 27 fantastic tracks of one of the greatest pop bands ever. You decide.

I suggest the second alternative. This great collection really allows us to witness the Beach Boys' career at all their most important stages (the tracks are for the most part arranged in chronological order, which is not that often among hit packages). And man, is it entertaining to see them go through all their stages: from lame Chuck Berry rip-offs ('Surfin' U.S.A.' which is just 'Sweet Little Sixteen' set to surfin' lyrics) and generic car songs ('Little Deuce Coupe') to their first moving and utterly beautiful love ballads ('Surfer Girl'), then to deep introspective tunes ('When I Grow Up'; 'In My Room'), to incredibly complex vocal harmonies ('Fun Fun Fun', 'Do You Wanna Dance'), and, finally, to their greatest stage. The predictable 'Sloop John B' is followed by some more inspired multipart pop suites, such as the megahit 'Good Vibrations' and the not less wonderful 'Heroes And Villains'. Then, as Brian slowly fades out, his thug brothers and cousins take in and we revert to simpler pop... and it's still fantastic: 'I Can Hear Music' could be my favourite Beach Boys song, if it weren't for the stupid hilarious bridge. Anyway, I guess it was a cover... And everybody keeps saying that the Beach Boys 70's-80's catalogue is a lot of hogwash, but you couldn't tell by the tracks on here. 'Disney Girls' is a nostalgic Mike Love fifties-style number; 'Lady Lynda' is just a cool ballad; 'Sumahama' is a fine Japanese styling where the guys manage to capture that Far Eastern spirit in an incredible way. And the collection closes off with a cover version of 'California Dreamin''. Wow!

Indeed, this is such a great collection I'm simply afraid to go out and grab more Beach Boys. I'm just afraid! What if they suck? What if it's just a masquerade? Ah shucks, even a loathsome band can have at least a couple dozen great tracks, especially if they manage to hang around for God knows how long... Nah. I don't believe that. I'm getting more Beach Boys as soon as possible. In the meantime, I'm gonna relisten to Pet Sounds.



Beach Boys' members' solo albums (unless you're talking Blondie Chaplin or Bruce Johnston, I guess) are not to be missed for diehards - by the time they actually got around to be doing them, all the Wilson brothers had developed interesting creative personalities of their own, and while few of them rank along with the very best the band produced in its prime, there's still a tremendous load of goodies to be uncovered out there. Considering that none of the brothers' catalogs are too huge (Dennis and Carl are dead, after all, and Brian's periods of "productive health" were way too short for him to pump out product regularly - for his own good, I believe), it shouldn't be a technically difficult thing either, although I hear much of this stuff is currently out of print. Well, let's all hope for the good times to come.


(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1988
Overall rating = 12

What is this, "Smile Vol. 2" with a drum machine? Never mind, we'll take it unwrapped.


Track listing: 1) Love And Mercy; 2) Walkin' The Line; 3) Melt Away; 4) Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long; 5) Little Children; 6) One For The Boys; 7) There's So Many; 8) Night Time; 9) Let It Shine; 10) Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight; 11) Rio Grande.

Take my word for it: had this album been written and recorded in, say, 1967, today it would be hailed as the greatest pop album of all time. Or in the top ten at least. Of course, it yet may happen that it will be regarded as such ten years from now - once the seemingly irrepairable harm to our conscience caused by glossy Eighties production has eroded away after a while. But that is, er, not for me to decide.

It definitely is for me to decide, though, that Brian's first officially released solo album is the best Beach Boy-related piece of product to ever come out of the Eighties and the best Beach Boy-related piece of product since at least Love You. It was released not too soon either - right at the time when Mike Love took complete control of the "Beach Boys" moniker and started pestering the market with loads of schlocky garbage and ridiculous re-recordings and 'Kokomo' and what-not that did not have even a whiff of Brian Wilson inside. Thus, if you're in your right mind, you will just close your eyes on everything that came after the band's self-titled 1985 album and switch on to Brian's solo recordings instead.

This one consists entirely of Brian's own, brand new (well, in the sense of "earlier unavailable" - I do not know exactly when each of these was written) creations, with lots of lyrical assistance from ol' time pal and therapist Eugene Landy; please disregard everybody's bombarding of the guy's trivial, occasionally obnoxious lyrics, because lyrics were never a big asset of the Boys anyway. What matters here is not the triteness of the message, because Brian had always been trying to send out one and the same message (the power of love) and you just gotta take it or leave it. What matters is that the songs are good. And not just good - these are really inspired, really heartfelt, and thoroughly unpredictable - in the technical sense - compositions. In short, 1988 finds Brian Wilson in exactly the same - and I stress exactly the same - creative health as, say, 1966.

And maybe even better, because there's a stunning diversity to his approach here that is totally lacking on Pet Sounds - in fact, could have been thoroughly visible on Smile had it come to officially blessed fruition. Downbeat, upbeat, balladry, pop-rock, and even a multi-part variegated nine-minute suite to top the record: here you have yourself a man who has rediscovered the joy of working on his own music, and, being free from the constraints of his pals and, apparently, of the record company, has rediscovered the joy of total creative freedom. Last time he did this, he ended up with Love You; this time, the stage is set for an even bigger triumph because he's not so much of a disjointed drug-addicted wreck as he was in the mid-Seventies.

Unfortunately, he still manages to blow it. One thing Love You has on this stuff is that it was not overproduced. You could complain about the synths and lament the absence of string quartets and lush orchestration, but at least you could not complain about permanent ear damage. Here, Brian and Landy manage to fuck up the overall sound by gruesome overproduction - even if, paradoxically, the final result still sounds as if they were recording everything in Brian's basement. Loud crashing electronic drums dominate everything, and even worse are the squealing hi-tech synths layered one onto another as if they were all separate instruments in an orchestra. Boy does that ever suck. I can't even say it sounds just like all those other overproduced Eighties records, simply because of the uniqueness of the recording process. But the final result is a confusing sonic mess, making an album where only a couple songs were supposed to sound like an Eighties' upgrade of Phil Spector's wall-of-sound into an album where every song sounds like an Eighties' upgrade of Phil Spector's wall-of-sound.

I do not wish to overrate this defect: it is this ridiculous overproduction that took most of the steam out of those who were already raising their pens to start praising the album (Brian is back again! As ingenious as he ever was!). People expected... well, you know what people always expect out of somebody like Brian Wilson, and they didn't get it, and they were disappointed, and they went ahead and trashed the record, or at least, switched to the "well, it could have been so much better" mode. I think it's unfair. After all, production is production. Take it away and you have wonderously strong melodic "skeletons" that just had the misfortune to be dressed in wrinkled and shabby arrangement "skins".

Every single song is a gem when taken on its own. 'Love And Mercy' is the perfect uplifting opener, probably consciously reminding you of 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' due to the unexpected "soft" mid-section in between the catchy pop-rock verse/chorus sections. 'Little Children' and 'Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight' gallop along at a speed you wouldn't think Brian was capable of (not too speedy, but speedy enough to make you realize the man was not limited to 'dreammode' all the time). The near-accappella harmony showcase 'One For The Boys' is flawed due to Brian's age-and-erosion-induced vocal limitations, but he can still think of a hell of a vocal arrangement anyway. 'Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long' shows he can still out-Phil Mr Spector with a wave of his hand (for some reason, that moment when he launches into 'in my mind, I can see', making the transition from melancholic verse to epic chorus as if he were just putting on a raincoat or something, brings tears to my eyes every time). And the 'Rio Grande' suite, starting like a "cowboy" kind of epic indeed, ends up incorporating more separate creative ideas than Mike Love ever had in all of his lifetime.

Yeah, you could probably complain about separate melodic moments like the chorus of 'Nighttime' (a bit tacky in a grating, typically Eighties way), but hey, it's really no worse than the best hits of the Cars or Duran Duran anyway. There's some indication here that Brian hadn't been totally blind to Eighties pop; maybe it would be better if he had been, but still things could be much worse, couldn't they?

Also, make sure to get hold of the "deluxe" edition of the CD if you can, which reasonably pumps it up to twice the original length - featuring several new songs like the totally synth-rockin' blast of 'Let's Go To Heaven In My Car' (kicks tremendous ass in all of its cheesiness, and with a great guitar solo to boot!), another upbeat "marching" tune appropriately called 'He Couldn't Get His Poor Body To Move' (apparently taken from the Sweet Insanity sessions?), and a fun kiddy ditty that could have fit in fine on Smiley Smile ('Too Much Sugar'). Plus, lotsa demos and comments from Brian in person. Woohoo! All in all, a CD not to be missed. Stay away only if you have such an alergy to electronic drums that you seriously think a song with electronic drums can have no soul.



(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1991
Overall rating = 10

If by "insanity" you mean "drowning top-notch melodies in sonic dreck", then the title surely matches the content.


Track listing: 1) Concert Tonight; 2) Someone To Love; 3) Water Builds Up; 4) Don't Let Her Know; 5) I Do; 6) Thank You; 7) Hotter; 8) Spirit Of Rock And Roll; 9) Rainbow Eyes; 10) Love Ya; 11) Make A Wish; 12) Smart Girls; 13) Country Feeling; 14) Daddy's Little Girl; 15) He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body To Move; 16) Being With The One You Love; 17) Metal Beach; 18) Goodnight Irene.

To be more precise, that's, like, the year of non-release: Sweet Insanity has never gotten an official release because the final product was rejected by Brian's record company. However, since, unlike Smile, for instance, there was a final product, and numerous bootleg editions have surfaced here and there, I choose to review it here because, after all, it does provide a bit more insight into Brian's "creative development" over the last decade of the century.

Briefly speaking, it's just Brian Wilson Vol. 2 with all the problems exacerbated even further. There seems to be much more Landy involvement; the production is fuller and richer yet even more atrocious in terms of synths and drum machines; the cheese factor is increasing; and a couple of the numbers gotta rank among the worst pieces of pap ever to be associated with a Wilson. Yet still this does not at all warrant the reputation of Insanity as a total jerk-off of a record. If anything, Brian's unique sense of melody is being demonstrated even stronger than on its predecessor, at least when it comes to the catchiness factor. In terms of mood, this one has fewer pretentions: no nine-minute complicated suites and a lot more upbeat dancey numbers. You're not going to be shedding tears here, you'll just be wanting to 'get your poor old body to move'. But we all wanna get around, don't we? Brian Wilson's teenage symphonies to God weren't the only thing God sent him to Earth for, after all.

On the other hand, he sure didn't mean for the poor old guy to deflate his worthy past in such a cringeworthy way as the album's absolute nadir, 'Smart Girls', a "song" that cost its rating a whole brand new shining rating point. I wouldn't want to recommend anybody hearing this song even once for "novelty" reasons or something like that - might be way too painful. Listen to this: 'My name is Brian and I'm the man/I write hit songs with a wave of my hand/Songs of surf and sun and sand/I make great music with my band/Songs you dance to and songs of joy/'Cause I'm the original BEACH BOY!'. Now imagine this demonstration of lyrical brilliancy rapped over a bit of techno-stylized rhythm and then turn into a mishmash of "quotations" from original Beach Boys hits poorly weaved into more of the same. Surely this is supposed to be taken tongue-in-cheek, but that don't help the matter none. There's a big difference between making a funny self-parody and making a lame, asinine caricature of oneself. If it's really Landy who's behind this atrocity, he deserves to be strangled. Or was this meant as therapy?

Kinda funny, but I think the other track on this edition that makes a direct nod to Brian's past, the "neo-surf" instrumental 'Metal Beach', is also precisely the one other track that does not work. It's not bad taken on its own, but it's way too over-produced and, indeed, "metallized" to recreate the same feeling of lightweight fun and innocence that all those early simplistic instrumentals did. It's a bit like Vanessa Mae taking over Paganini: same notes and a whole layer of populistic, gimmicky cheese wrapped around 'em. Slightly fun, but also slightly annoying.

However, there are really few fuck-ups elsewhere: Wilson isn't going for a direct replication of any of his past melodies, rather just trying to come up with new similar ones. Generally simple, but, as usual, always reeking of genius. And complain as you might about the offensive production, the imbecile lyrics, and Brian's ever-worsening singing capabilities, the minute you give these songs a serious chance they're gonna stick like glue. 'Someone To Love' is exuberant as hell, fun beyond recognition, and featuring about a gazillion hooks all at once. 'Water Builds Up' is even simpler, actually primitive to an extent, but its bouncy rhythm, its doo-woppy harmonies and overall feel-good atmosphere is still a hundred percent Wilson.

Hey, if you wanna know what I really feel, it's this: these late period solo Brian albums aren't good merely because of the catchy melodies - no matter how many counteracting factors there are, there's a genuine sense of sincerity and care about them. They're dressed up as ridiculously commercial product, but they are not: geez, were they really commercial, would you think the record company would have the gall to reject them? In spots, this album strongly reminds me of Love You, with the same naive childish approach that dominated Brian on the 1977 album. Funny addition - the most Love You-like song on here is entitled 'Love Ya'! So the main clue is - if you love Love You despite it being a very "untypical Beach Boys" record, you might get a full charge out of this one as well. So there's drum machines and various kinds of bad shit spoiling the results. So what? It's still a very kind, uplifting, optimistic and ultimately well-written kind of album. Just disregard that 'Smart Girls' blunder and you're all set.



(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1995
Overall rating = 10

Very interesting selection of re-recordings - makes you wanna think of something.

Best song: no comment.

Track listing: 1) Meant For You; 2) This Whole World; 3) Caroline No; 4) Let The Wind Blow; 5) Love And Mercy; 6) Do It Again; 7) The Warmth Of The Sun; 8) Wonderful; 9) Still I Dream Of It; 10) Melt Away; 11) 'Til I Die.

A very short soundtrack to a presumably somewhat longer documentary on Brian, recorded by Brian himself and therefore counting as an independent Brian Wilson release. As miserable as the practice of re-recording one's older hits can be (hey, just recently I happened to hear one of those cheap compilations of the Animals' big hits re-recorded by Eric Burdon - drum machines and synths galore! I personally cut off a big slice of respect for the man after that), this little disc is happily better than most similar projects.

My best guess, really, is that this is an attempt by Brian to take up his "post-mature period" material (the "youngest" tracks are 'The Warmth Of The Sun' and 'Caroline No' and that's all there is to the pre-Smile compositions) and present it in a 'what-I-hold-most-dear-to-my-heart' kind of way. People often complain that the vocal harmonies suck on this record, and hey, they do, but in a way that is the point: it's a Brian Wilson, not a Beach Boys, album, and that means separating the Beach Boys from Brian Wilson. I'm a little surprised that he did shove a re-recording of 'Do It Again' here as well: the song may be credited to Brian all right, but there's way too much of a Mike Love flavour to it to be able to successfully get rid of it on a record that's supposed to steer away from Mike Love as far as possible. Nevertheless, it's a fine re-recording in its own rights, but maybe a wee bit less fun than the original.

The rest is all ballads, and rightly so, because it's in the ballads that Brian's personality has always shone the clearest. But not the obvious candidates like 'In My Room' either; rather the obscure and half-forgotten gems and mini-gems from the late Sixties/early Seventies, tunes off Wild Honey, Sunflower, Surf's Up, etc., songs that only the most ardent Beach Boys fans were actually aware of. So before you have the uncontrollable urge to write this project off as a lame cash-in, take a look at the tracklisting and see how many titles you immediately recognize; I personally had to scratch my head at about half of them before I actually remembered the origin of each and every song. Not to mention that in 1995, with the Beach Boys' catalog being in a mess and all, I guess for some people this album was the only easily available source where they could hear 'Til I Die' and 'This Whole World'.

Another good piece of news is that the re-recordings do not at all suffer from technology abuse; you couldn't really tell the decade when this stuff was produced by merely listening to it. In fact, in two cases at least they actually improve on the originals - that is, when he tackles 'Love And Mercy' and 'Melt Away' from the self-titled solo album. No grating synths and booming electronic drums; instead you get quiet, hushy production that recalls, if not Pet Sounds, then the stripped down, subtle approach of Friends. Limp acoustic guitar and subdued falsetto harmonies for 'Love And Mercy' and just a tad of the rhythm section at the very end to give it a climactic ending. Nostalgia for sure, but were the entire Brian Wilson album produced that-a way, it would certainly push the man a notch higher with critical attention.

As far as surprises go, there's only one, a 1976 piano demo called 'Still I Dream Of It' - curious, but not exceptional, as it's basically Brian sitting at a piano and working on one musical phrase for three and a half minutes, singing confessional-emotional lyrics with that exact same hoarse technically-unlistenable voice of his you have at your disposal on Love You. Disappointing in the sense that there could have obviously been more and better unknown selections, but fine in the sense that the more unreleased material we have released, the better it is. To paraphrase an expression of the Crusade legacy, "take 'em all, and let God recognize the ones that are his". 'Salright by me.

All in all, it's a trifle, but it's an essential buy for devoted Brian fans - whoever says the record was made flat and with no feeling would need his head re-examined: a guy like Brian Wilson, with zillions of world-known hits behind his belt, wouldn't need to unearth and blow the dust off deeply buried songs that no-one really cared about if he weren't doing that with a special purpose. If anything, this album is the one which could be aptly named Brian Wilson Loves You ("And For That Reason He Shares Some Of His Favourite Religious Love Anthems With You"). So perhaps it really needn't have been longer, because you can't make a list of favourite religious love anthems that goes on forever, now can you? Oh, and it's hardly a coincidence either that the record begins with 'Meant For You', given the Friends comparison I've already dealt out and the title itself. Still can't give it more than a 10 because a trifle is a trifle, but there are times when re-recording is a curse and times when re-recording is a blessing, and guess which time this one is.




Year Of Release: 1995
Overall rating = 11

Well, at least Van Dyke Parks makes his nostalgia trips hi-tech-free.


Track listing: 1) Orange Crate Art; 2) Sail Away; 3) My Hobo Heart; 4) Wings Of A Dove; 5) Palm Tree And Moon; 6) Summer In Monterey; 7) San Francisco; 8) Hold Back Time; 9) My Jeanine; 10) Movies Is Magic; 11) This Town Goes Down At Sunset; 12) Lullaby.

As far as I know, unless witty sarcastic know-it-alls prove me wrong, this is essentially a Van Dyke Parks album with Brian merely participating as lead vocalist and "overall vibe provider", and that V.D.P. just sort of invited Brian along to keep him up and going. Well, even if it is so, one can hardly imagine a better collaboration case - after all, Van Dyke Parks was that fellow who sat along with Mr Wilson helping him with stuff as his mind gradually fell apart at the recording of Smile. Since then, Parks had been busy upholding a busy solo career of moderate success (read: total obscurity), mostly getting a reputation as that whacky Wilson-influenced guy creating complex goofily orchestrated pop symphonies that no one cared about because they lacked Wilson's inspiration.

Or sumpthin' like that. Well, anyway, Orange Crate Art is just another one of these albums - a collection of complex pop songs, filled to the brim with angelic "surf-originated" harmonies, heavenly chimes, Godly orchestration, and pretentious visionary lyrics. With Brian and his by now easily recognizable "new" raspy voice on top of it all. No wonder the record has been overlooked; as is the case with most of Brian's solo output as well, this is a nostalgia trip into the year of 1967 - just look at titles like 'San Francisco' and 'Summer In Monterey' - and we all know nostalgia trips don't fare well in the Nineties. Well, okay, so Mike Love and his company of would-be "Beach Boys" can still reap something off it, but that's the cheapest, most easily acceptable level of nostalgia; V.D.P. and Brian create an exquisite, tasteful kind of nostalgia for things that weren't all that appreciated even in the Sixties.

Van Dyke does not write particularly memorable melodies, but that's not to say he doesn't write any melodies - most of these tracks are solidly crafted, with glossy little hooks that eat into you over time, and, thank God, with enough atmosphere diversity so as not to make you fall asleep in the first twenty minutes. This is all very light, pretty music, of course, but there's stuff that's more - and less - upbeat, more - and less - nostalgic, more - and less - psychedelic, more - and less - jazzy (in combination with Brian's ever-"weirdening" voice, it makes a couple of songs almost sound like Steely Dan with chimes!), and a pop-classical instrumental suite to top the proceedings. Do any of the songs make you cry? That's something you'll have to question yourself, but I'd guess a statistically average answer would be "no, unless you're really taken in by the nostalgia". Then again, what else would you expect from a couple of guys who are deliberately trying to recapture the vibe of that epoch? There's no place for immediate, spontaneous, God-sent inspiration here.

Keep that in mind and you'll enjoy the album in its entirety, for the cute little celebration of joy that it is. Starting right from the title track, a friendly harmonized acoustic-and-mandolin-and-whatever-soothing-plucked-instruments-there-are ballad that's probably swell to dance to by the light of the silvery moon. In fact, I'm kinda flooded with memories of ye olde Hollywood when it comes along, but not necessarily in a, you know, cheap way at that. 'Sail Away' has a little bit of Latin flavor to it and a swell orchestral riff to elevate it from the status of "merely pleasant" to something higher. My favourite two tracks, though, are 'Wings Of A Dove' - an accordeon-ornated popper with unbeatable vocal hooks (you already understand, I guess, that I've come to fully accept Brian's rasp by now), and especially the gorgeous 'Palm Tree And Moon', a ballad that, weirdly enough, starts with the line 'this is so far from China', yet features a delightful musical phrase lifted straight off a Far Eastern pattern. Sort of like a 'Sumahama'-influenced song that's ten times better than the influence.

The "strangest" track, then, I guess, is 'San Francisco', the only number on the entire album to feature a moderately "hard" guitar riff at times - of course, that "hard" riff would be softer than Mantovani for a true hard rocker, but in the general context of the "sap and silk and silver" that this record is, it makes the song take on a really curious, almost menacing look. The lyrics are really innocent - a guy reminiscing of the happy old days in Frisco where 'love is not for sale' - but somehow the musical atmosphere just doesn't match that message, and that makes you think. I'm putting too much into this, probably, but there is a discrepancy, and who am I to be a-hidin' it from you? Ben Fong Torres?

As for that closing six minute 'Lullaby', it's decent as far as "classical pop" goes, but nothing particularly shake-your-donkey-upping. Some parts sound like they come right out of the orchestral parts on the Moodies' Days Of Future Passed, which isn't too encouraging, but at least there's none of these faux-sounding stupid generic "climaxes" that are so predictable it hurts. Rather it's just a quiet unintrusive mood piece with pleasant bits of solo passages from violins and brass from time to time. Not bad. As is the entire album: it may lack the spark, but it certainly got everything else I can think of. And I'm pretty sure there's more than one really cranky old nostalgiac who'd be ready to call this the best album of 1995, too.



(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1998
Overall rating = 11

Good songs, but somehow I feel a lack of conviction. Hey, whaddaya know, I used to badmouth Pet Sounds, too! Crucify me!


Track listing: 1) Your Imagination; 2) She Says She Needs Me; 3) South American; 4) Where Has Love Been; 5) Keep An Eye On Summer; 6) Dream Angel; 7) Cry; 8) Lay Down Burden; 9) Let Him Run Wild; 10) Sunshine; 11) Happy Days.

This one - another relatively short album - is probably the best place to start with solo Brian Wilson, and is usually hailed as a particular peak for him (although almost just as often it gets panned by scepticists as a particular low; go figure). But, I dunno, it sounds a bit normal to my ears. Discounting the unreleased Sweet Insanity, we can trace something unusual and quirky in all of Brian's releases: the self-titled record marked a surprisingly ravenous desire to combine modern, but homebrewed, technologies with a lust for recapturing the old magic vibe of "love and mercy"; I Just Wasn't Made For These Times marked an equally ravenous desire to showcase the 'forgotten' sides of Brian; and Orange Crate Art was an attempt to do something complex and twisted in a world of simplistic, ever-simplyfing pop values.

Imagination marks... nothing. It's just a collection of newly written songs and re-recorded oldies, none of them bad and some of them extremely inspiring, but I just don't feel it does Brian's genius any justice. Perhaps part of the problem is the flat, generic Nineties' production, which may be less overtly "tasteless" than the production on Brian Wilson, but at the same time is much less 'curious' in nature. Just a standard pop environment, heavy on the synths and what I call 'instrumental fakery'; not nauseating, but sucking out a lot of life from the actual songs. But then again, I've never been a production freak - no, I think the biggest problem is a lack of commitment. When you listen to a song like 'Love And Mercy', you get it. To hell with the awful production: it's a powerful, if lyrically naive, statement, a true musical prayer from the depths of one's heart, right on the Pet Sounds and whichever else level. And even the lesser songs on that album, the ones that were all poppy and upbeat, used to shine with force and energy. Imagination, in sheer contrast, is a relaxed, slightly loose album with few highs that make you go "wow, I'd kill for this song".

Like the title track (or, to be precise, 'Your Imagination'), which is very good - my pick for the best number on the album - but maybe it's because it lacks these breathtaking "rising up up up up" chord sequences Brian is famous for that it just feels smooth and even and, well, nice, but unspectacular, and ultimately forgettable on a larger scale of things. I dunno, maybe it would even have been better if he'd recorded it in a particularly quiet, Friends-like setting, because Brian is so good at "extremes"; "moderation" (note that I'm saying "moderation", not "mediocrity"!) suits him much less. Same thing with the ballads - 'She Says She Needs Me' is very pretty, but I wouldn't go as far as to call it 'beautiful', even considering the fact that Brian manages to pull out some of his trademark falsetto on that one; while 'Where Has Love Been' is downright unmemorable. No surprise, then, that 'Cry', with its very untypical, almost Clapton-like lead guitar wailing through the entire song, almost gives the impression of quintessential adult contemporary saved by vocal harmonies alone.

Not that I'm in any shitty mood today to be lambasting the record: I enjoy it pretty much, thank you. All of the songs I've complained about are really nice to listen to, and all of them display Brian's talents of melody-writing for sure. It's not like you can't distinguish this from mediocre adult contemporary. Mediocre adult contemporary does not mean writing utterly stupid, utterly infectious pop songs like 'South American', ones that show everybody how much Brian Wilson actually cares about his lyrics (i.e. not giving one shit) and how much he cares that the song stick in your head and you go through your house like crazy humming 'gimme that gimme that South American girl' even if you hate their guts in real life. Nor does mediocre adult contemporary suppose the re-recording of such gems as 'Keep An Eye On Summer' and 'Let Him Run Wild' - utterly needless re-recordings if you ask me, but hey, that's Brian Wilson and his songs, he's got the lawful right to re-record them as many times as he wishes. I gotta admit that the "soon we'll be graduating" line does sound a bit cooky when coming from a half-decrepit fifty-plus-year-old, doesn't it? Unless you gotta understand "graduating" as a metaphor for "leaving this earth", of course, which would give the song a whole new religious meaning.

Don't overlook 'Happy Days', either, another take on the "trademark multi-part Wilsuite", with a moody jazzy beginning and an upbeat poppy ending. Even here, though, when Brian sings 'oh my gosh, happy days are here again... goodbye blues, happy days are here again', there's no real happiness in the tune - maybe deliberately, to make the listener realise that happiness is but a mere illusion, or maybe because Brian just wasn't in the mood to create a real happy song.

All the same, what with the album flowing too smooth and too predictable, it is perhaps better for it to be that way, if only for Brian's own sake. Imagination gives the impression of a tormented soul finally settling down into a tired and peace-seeking old man's body ('Lay Down Burden' indeed - easily the album's most sincere-sounding ballad because that's what it is all about!), of a man finally at peace with himself, not striving for much yet able to give out something good. And hey, we all deserve a little peace and quiet some day. So while I'd never agree that it's the best Brian Wilson solo album to be found, it's definitely the most stable Brian Wilson album out there, if you know what I mean. So - stably recommended.



(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 2000
Overall rating = 11

Well at least he's still alive, the old guy!

Best song: they're all good, and many of them are best.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Little Girl Intro; 2) The Little Girl I Once Knew; 3) This Whole World; 4) Don't Worry Baby; 5) Kiss Me Baby; 6) Do It Again; 7) California Girls; 8) I Get Around; 9) Back Home; 10) In My Room; 11) Surfer Girl; 12) The First Time; 13) This Isn't Love; 14) Add Some Music To Your Day; 15) Please Let Me Wonder;

CD II: 1) Band Intro; 2) Brian Wilson; 3) 'Til I Die; 4) Darlin'; 5) Let's Go Away For Awhile; 6) Pet Sounds; 7) God Only Knows; 8) Lay Down Burden; 9) Be My Baby; 10) Good Vibrations; 11) Caroline No; 12) All Summer Long; 13) Love & Mercy; 14) Sloop John B; 15) Barbara Ann; 16) Interview With Brian Wilson.

Brian Wilson doesn't give out many shows, and the ones he does give out are quite small - this one has an audience of about five hundred people or so. Well, luckily Brian doesn't need the moolah these days - and I suppose he gets his fill out of the endless profanizations of Beach Boys songs in commercials - so he doesn't need to drag himself out on to huge stadiums as support act for Linkin' Park, heh heh. Neither does he have to accompany Mike Love and his "Beach Boys" on their shows (which might be quite good for all I know; hey, Mike Love is a jackass and we all know he's not exactly hot about singing 'Surf's Up' or 'Cool Cool Water' onstage, but he still sings some good stuff, doesn't he? You can't spoil a good song unless you really want to, and Mr Love doesn't want to, now does he?), so he's quite free to do what he wants when he wants.

So what do we expect of a decrepit old ruin onstage? I'll tell you what to expect. If you want to expect energy, maybe Mike Love's the better bet for you. Most of the time Brian sounds as if he's having two bodyguards propping him from both sides. (He did look pretty much the same way when I recently saw him directing 'Good Vibrations' at the Queen's jubilee). The jokes he keeps trying to crack are so unbearably "senile" you can't but feel pity for the man. But on the other hand, energy is not the only thing that matters - and since Brian mostly concentrates on the softer numbers, it's not a big problem. The thing that matters is the obvious happiness and "soul comfort" that Brian displays when he's singing this stuff. He really sings what he wants, those songs that matter more to him than anything else, and he doesn't even need to concentrate to put all of himself into these songs because he's there already. Add to this an extremely professional and respectable band that seems to be perfectly happy to do whatever Brian requires of them (including excellent harmonies that often match the original Beach Boys harmonies note-for-note); the absolute lack of overproduction or "slickness", since it's a live performance; and the hardcore audience's lively response to even the most obscure stuff, and you get easily one of the most honest and heartfelt albums in the history of Brian Wilson, both Beach Boy and solo artist.

Another asset is how good the man actually is at his material. Decrepit, mayhaps, senile, most probably, but he never - I repeat never once - gets off key, not even in the most difficult moments, plus he's managed to recover a lot of his long-lost falsetto (man, the things a healthy sterile life will do to ya). Of course, since he does lead vocals on all the tunes, there will be cases when you're gonna miss Carl a lot, or even Mike Love, but I assure you you'll get used to it. Sure Carl did the passionate delivery on 'Darlin' better, but Brian matches all the notes and intonations perfectly, just with a little less force and power.

As for the track listing, you can see that the album very much looks like an expanded I Just Wasn't Made For These Times Live; which is quite natural, because, like I said, it's mainly ol' time favourites. I'd never have thought Brian cares so much for 'Do It Again' - always thought it was more like up Mike's alley, with the retro surfin' mood and all, but looks like Brian really digs the song, or maybe he just thinks it's the only "surfin' oldie" that is lyrically structured as an intentional nostalgic hymn and thus can be performed without any significant embarrassment. Well, he's right then.

Things of special notice, which may get you more interested (or less interested, but will hardly leave you cold) in the album. There are a couple rarities/first-time-onlys that you'll have trouble finding elsewhere (the so-so ballad 'The First Time'). There's a one-minute snippet of Brian and the band doing the Barenaked Ladies' song 'Brian Wilson'. There's space enough to showcase the band's skills when Brian makes them recreate the two instrumental numbers from Pet Sounds, which they do quite professionally; unfortunately, the professionalism is still sort of lost on the possibly-never-to-be-done-perfectly-on-stage 'Good Vibrations'. There's Brian doing Phil Spector's 'Be My Baby', claiming that it's his favourite recording of all time. There's Brian dedicating 'Lay Down Burden' to the memory of the late Carl Wilson. There's a great version of 'Love And Mercy' closing the show, mainly just Brian and his piano and nothing else. And the 2CD edition that I have adds a couple bonus tracks ('Sloop John B' and 'Barbara Ann'), plus an interview with Brian where he mostly talks about how good his band is. Oh, there's also some really nice stage banter, except for moments when Brian is doing these stupid jokes about cigarette lighters (which he himself admits are stupid - strange he doesn't add 'lost my head for a moment there') and when he says '...we're gonna do a couple numbers unplugged, then maybe we'll come back and ROCK OUT or something' [intoned in a way that lets you understand that if there's one thing in the world Brian Wilson doesn't quite understand, it's the essence of "rocking out", but never mind].

As far as I understand, the album was originally only available through mail order or something, but what with all the special Japanese imports and stuff, I guess you can find it relatively easy if you're a fan - and if you can, grab it. No Brian Wilson album is not worth having.



(released by: BRIAN WILSON)

Year Of Release: 2004
Overall rating = 12

Apparently, God's will was for this thing to be released thirty-eight years after its conception.

Best song: yeah, like you can really pick out from a symphony.

Track listing: 1) Our Prayer/Gee; 2) Heroes And Villains; 3) Roll Plymouth Rock; 4) Barnyard; 5) Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine; 6) Cabin Essence; 7) Wonderful; 8) Song For Children; 9) Child Is Father Of The Man; 10) Surf's Up; 11) I'm In Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop; 12) Vega-Tables; 13) On A Holiday; 14) Wind Chimes; 15) Mrs O'Leary's Cow; 16) In Blue Hawaii; 17) Good Vibrations.

I is firstly devoicing a sloshwobbering discomplaint, to get this fizzledobbling piece of problem out of the way. The vocals. Everything on here sounds like it is being sung by a sixty-year old grandfather - which it actually is - and there is no way in hell this music is fit (by default, I mean) for sixty-year old grandfathers, nor is it fit to be sung from the perspective of one. Yes, Brian does give it his best, never missing a note and stretching his range as far as it can go at this time in his life, but still, this thing deserves younger, fresher vocalists, like Brian himself and his late brother Carl used to be thirty years ago. This is why I nicked the experience a point. (Actually, to be more precise, I nicked it a point after listening to this version of 'Surf's Up' and the 1971-released track back to back).

Now, to business. Some might call it a bad omen, to return to a long-forgotten dream and give it one more try after nearly four decades, but bad omens work for young people, not for sixty-year olds. Once you have finally found peace with yourself and your surroundings, you will return to work reinforced - maybe your mind will benefit a little more from the passing of time than your youthful burnin' heart, but then again isn't music as much formula as it is emotion? And in Brian's case, the situation was much easier because all of the emotion associated with the Smile project had already been put to proper use by 1967 - there it is, residing inside the melodies of 'Cabin Essence', 'Surf's Up', and 'Good Vibrations'. What he lacked in 1967 was mindpower - a strong determination to put all the pieces together in the correct order and push the 'cook for ten minutes' button. Not to mention, of course, all the drug taking, which can work wonders for creativity for all I know, but has so far never helped anybody boost up the will, if you know what I mean. Today, being old, cleaned up, and wisened up, he can allow himself this luxury.

As far as I know, the rejuvenated Smile does not coincide with any of the multiple available boots; actually, cannot coincide, because some of the material has been reworked, and certainly the ideal structure could only be guessed at previously. The suite is now consisting of three separate movements (clearly defined by pauses; everything in between segues into each other without any breaks, sort of like the Abbey Road mini-suite, which this stuff could predate if it had come out when it was supposed to come out, but it hadn't, so it didn't); each movement has one "grand" centerpiece - 'Heroes And Villains', 'Surf's Up', 'Good Vibrations' - and lots of tiny, or medium length, songs, ditties, and snippets making up the Big One's entourage. The actual titles do not matter that much, because motives and themes keep recurring in a quite pattern-free manner; sometimes more noticeable, sometimes less (occasionally the background vocals will hum to you the melody of the song that has just finished while a new one is already playing in the foreground), in the end they will force you to accept this stuff as a unity rather than a collection of isolated segments.

Even if, come to think of it, at heart this really is a collection of isolated segments, and, just, like the Abbey Road suite, these segments aren't all that important or make much sense when analysed in details. Pictures of blissful farm life; admiration of a child's beauty; sunny Hawaiian references; the joys of surfing; and similar stuff, filtered through Van Dyke Parks' word-generating brain computer. The 'teenage symphony to God' description would much better fit Pet Sounds; that was a 'teenage symphony' indeed, a set of half-spiritual, half-sexual confessions that could only come from a naive, inexperienced teenage mind indeed; Smile is more like a cross between a 'teenage serenade to sunshine' and a 'teenage musical haiku', wrapping up brief emotional outbursts in a cloak of warmth and happiness. Such a peaceful album indeed. Maybe that's why it failed then and succeeded now - because in 1967, Brian simply wasn't ready for a "peaceful" album. (He sort of would be for 1968's Friends, but that was a different kind of peace, "calm on tranquilizers" rather than anything else).

On a formal level, the three 'movements' are indeed assigned unifying tags: the first one is supposed to be 'Americana', the second one deals with growth and going through stages of life, the third one deals with the five elements. In other words, this is so late Sixties - Tommy, eat your heart out. Please forget I just mentioned it to you (the only reason is fear of being dubbed an ignorappopotamus in the reader comments section) and let's move on to the actual material. Praise must be given where it is due: everything has been recorded so meticulously authentic that the only thing that gives away the finished product's non-authenticity is that the production is simply too good to reflect the values of 1967 to which it pledges its faith nominally. The keyboards, the drums, the vocal harmonies, all of it sounds like the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties never happened, except that the sound engineers actually learned to pick the fluff out of between the tracks. There's no question of replacing real string instruments with their synthesized analogs, however effective this may be today; and even if Brian's vocals aren't really all they should be, I'm glad no-one had any crazy ideas about tampering with them electronically like they do with Cher or something like that. When it comes to passages where he isn't capable of pulling out a particularly high note (as on the heavenly 'columnated ruins domino!' conclusion in the first part of 'Surf's Up'), they just bring in somebody else to 'catch up' his line and finish it - very smoothly done, by the way, and only really noticeable when you compare it to the 1971 version, on which Carl apparently did not require anybody else's help... but hey, I did promise to let bygones be bygones.

The two major pieces, 'Heroes And Villains' and 'Good Vibrations', have both been slightly extended, and the lyrics to the latter almost completely changed - however, as far as I understand, this actually reflects the original vision; the lyrics to 'Good Vibrations' were re-written by Mike Love (who was supposedly disgusted with lines like 'she's already working on my brain', probably fearing that the song might eventually be mistaken for a drug ode - hey, he might have had a point there, you know!), and the "additional" segments were chopped off in order to make the songs' length more reasonable for single release. I can't say I'm really happy with the 'Good Vibrations' bit, though - I've always thought that the unexpected fade-out of the 'gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations a-happenin' with her' line and the gorgeous beauty of that thin harp line was the best thing about the song, whereas here attention is drawn away from the harp to the extra vocals. Others will find it a minor quibble, though. On the other hand, the new orchestrated coda to 'Heroes And Villains' is probably the best of the added moments on the album, so it kind of adds up.

Other "biggies" that were already officially available in more or less completed form - 'Surf's Up', 'Cabin Essence' - do not improve much on the early versions. But the big news is that many of the songs that the average listener only knew before in 'perverted' Smiley Smile versions ('Wonderful', 'Wind Chimes', 'Vegetables') have been shaped up, trimmed, given a stylish haircut, and occasionally revealed as the glorious melodic masterpieces they were supposed to be, especially 'Wind Chimes' - how the heck could I have missed the beauty of that one? So it is a little strange how the introspective, semi-romantic semi-melancholic melody suddenly turns into a pompous instrumental 'Heroes And Villains'-style surf march, but that's the coolness of Smile where you can never predict where you're gonna find yourself the next minute even after several listens. 'Vegetables' (here renamed 'Vega-Tables' for no reason but lack of reason) somehow also manages to mature to song level from cool idea level, even if I seriously doubt that's Paul McCartney again chewing on vegetables out there. (Wouldn't it have been super duper cool to have him again, though?).

We also finally get to hear the 'Mrs O'Leary's Fire' part of the 'Elements' suite, the one that legend claims to have been originally recorded by an orchestra in the studio with a real fire-in-the-bucket going on so that the musicians could 'feel smoke' - and then hidden away by Brian in superstitious fear when he'd learned that a nearby building had actually burnt down that night. (Funny thing, the track is called 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow' on here - apparently, some of the old fears must still be haunting Brian even today). And it is really fabulous, a brilliant recreation of the fiery tumult, chaos, and confusion, although not so much in a frightening as rather in an exciting way, if you get me.

It wouldn't be right to focus on every melody or every new twist captured on here - there's too many of them, which, of course, guarantees repeated listens and new discoveries all the time. Not everything works, but for every poor idea, there's at least two or three good or brilliant ones, which, in the end, makes Brian's vocals the only systematic (but completely understandable and forgivable) complaint. If there really is something to feel sad about, it's the realisation that in the year 2004, nobody except a small bunch of hipsters and a large, but gradually fading crowd of nostalgia goers, is really giving a damn about one of pop music's most grandiose projects finally seeing the official light of day. Albums like Sgt Pepper or Tommy (or, indeed, Pet Sounds), which had the luck to be completed and released in their due time, have firmly entered the popular conscience and are now the pop music equivalents of Homer and Shakespeare, unshaken and unmoved by any sort of venomous critique one might want to throw at them. Smile, on the other hand, has, at best, entered the popular conscience as a famous failure, and I'm pretty sure that, no matter how big the promotion campaign was, there are still lots of Sixties' music fans around who don't have the least idea that the project has finally been realised, especially if they're not living anywhere near big civilization centers like NYC.

In other words, with such a belated timing, Smile is running a serious risk of merely making a bright flash on the horizon and disappearing back into the can. This certainly calls for a big philosophic discussion on how tightly the artistic value of something is tied up with its chronological settings - but I'd rather finish this review on an optimistic note, considering how the music on the album actually begs us to do so, and say just this: if finishing Smile actually helped Brian to finally exorcise his demons once and for all, and make his life happier and more complete, there could have hardly been a better goal overall, and this alone fully justifies the existence of this package.



(released by: CARL WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1981
Overall rating = 9

Perhaps one should wait a couple years more after "Keepin' The Summer Alive" to release a solo album, eh?

Best song: HEAVEN

Track listing: 1) Hold Me; 2) Bright Lights; 3) What You Gonna Do About Me; 4) The Right Lane; 5) Hurry Love; 6) Heaven; 7) The Grammy; 8) Seems So Long Ago.

Carl's brief solo career was a disappointment for everybody, and for good reason. After all, the man was basically the main creative force in the band through the first half of the Seventies - both bringing to life all these old Brian outtakes and contributing a solid tune every now and then when the Brian mines appeared to be depleted. His steering the band towards a more R'n'B-based sound on Carl And The Passions was not a particularly great idea, but it wasn't a total waste either, because the man had a genuine love for that kind of stuff, and his voice was quite suited to the kind of soulful wailing it requires.

With all that solid legacy in mind, you'd think he could shine on a solo record, free from the constraints of Mike Love-overseen hitmaking and cheesy disco remakes of old classics; let his creativity run wild, so to speak. But his solo debut is instead a very muddled affair. It isn't a total waste as some would have it; there are a couple moments of real Beach Boys-like beauty, contained in his quiet emotional ballads where you really get to see the "ethereal" Carl Wilson of old, even if nothing even remotely approaches 'God Only Knows'. But Carl did not want to have an entire record dedicated to ballads, and most of its running time is spent on half-baked, repetitive, and sometimes downright depressive "modern R'n'B" tunes, not very memorable and not very full of life, either. Co-writing many of the tunes with Myrna Smith (who also adds backing vocals and sometimes duets with Carl), he sort of recreated the frustrating vibe of Carl And The Passions, only with more Carl and less passions.

What I mean is: if I want to hear a song like 'Bright Lights', I will rather listen to an early Madonna album. It's the same kind of joyful cheesy dance-pop, but with ten times less energy than contained in your average 'Lucky Star' or 'Borderline'. Of course, Madonna - and other "cutting edge" artists of the early Eighties dance-pop movement - were much more dependent on production technologies, synthesizers, electronic drums, etc., but at least I can hear some music going on on those records; with 'Bright Lights', I don't even notice the peculiarities of the musical arrangement cuz there aren't any. Just a beat and an inaudible guitar rhythm. As far as music goes, this album is one big fat zero; no interesting instrumentation, no melodic hooks, just some wimpy rhythm guitar.

To be honest, that's probably the way it was supposed to be - so as not to have a single thing that could take the listener's attention from Carl's vocal hooks and vocal power. Well, are there any? There are. 'Hold me, just a little tighter, 'cause when you hold me, I don't have to fight it'. That's sort of a catchy chorus, but it's so perfunctory and flat you can't help but wonder where has all that goshdarn emotion gone. 'Baby what you gonna do about the one who really loves you what you gonna do about the one that really cares...'. There's not even any recognizing Carl's own voice in the depths of that forgettable tripe. Look, I'll be the first to admit there is some work here, and that I've heard much much worse dance-pop material in my life. I'll even admit that the lengthy, never never never ending, always always always repetitive 'Right Lane' gets me foot a-tappin', but any solidly laid beat that goes on for five minutes eventually would. With R'n'B, you gotta have devotion and energy, mild hooks aren't enough, and my soul denies to acknowledge any in this material. The worst embarrassment is arguably 'The Grammy', with its cooky 'we thought you wanted to be a star' refrain that not even Hall & Oates would take up; for Chrissake, Carl, if you wanna make a biting statement about the problems of stardom and vanity, write a ballad about it, not a generic dance-pop throwaway.

Because some face is indeed saved on the ballads, two of them easily ranking with the best songs Carl ever wrote. 'Heaven' surpasses everything here in terms of quality, a gentle, caressing acoustic ballad that displays both genuine emotions and a great vocal delivery, with Carl rising to a falsetto in all the right places and returning back to his normal range where all the right places end. This is easily Beach Boys quality and could well fit on Surf's Up or any of these records. 'Seems So Long Ago' moves a little closer to adult contemporary with its uninteresting use of synths and elevator jazz sax solo, but still has a top notch vocal delivery, and after all, it's supposed to have sort of a nostalgic easy-listening vibe to it, so none of these things are out of place - it's a very nice way to finish off the record.

In a way, Carl was facing the same problems as Brian on his solo records: having to push his creative ideas through a wall of lifeless production. But he was in a tighter spot than Brian; he was never as gifted a songwriter, and he was more inclined to do R'n'B-rooted material than pure pop, which meant he was to capture the groove rather than the hook, and there's nothing groovy about this record. Still, it's not entirely hopeless, and the two ballads are well worth hunting for if you're a diehard. Besides, the album cover is rather stylish, don't you think? Looks just like something you'd see hangin' on the wall in an expensive man's hairdressing saloon.



(released by: CARL WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1983
Overall rating = 7

Leave this stuff to The Cars, kind sir.

Best song: everything here ranges from bad to mediocre.

Track listing: 1) What More Can I Say; 2) She's Mine; 3) Givin' You Up; 4) One More Night Alone; 5) Rockin' All Over The World; 6) What You Do To Me; 7) Young Blood; 8) Of The Times; 9) Too Early To Tell; 10) If I Could Talk To Love; 11) Time.

You thought the first album was sordid, well this one's even worse; luckily, Carl never made the mistake of releasing a third one. This time around, he's so obviously out of steam that he finds himself relying on cover versions to "save" his ass - and he couldn't have made a worse choice with covers than Fogerty's 'Rockin' All Over The World' and the Leiber-Stoller penned title track. Not that they're bad songs, but not even lazyass, but smartass chameleon bastards Status Quo could beat the original; and Carl's angelic vocals may work perfectly fine with brother Brian's angelic material, but to belt out this quintessential barroom rocker, the one that goes down best of all together with a good Jack Daniels or at least a couple mugs Lowenbrau? Spare me the embarrassment: Carl Wilson vs. John Fogerty? They're in different categories, man.

Likewise, I don't quite see the point of covering 'Young Blood', unless it's to vent out a deeply hidden pedophile complex (well, we all have to be harsh and sarcastic on dead people sometimes, so don't be in such a hurry to cast the first stone upon me!). At least, not when it's done in such a generic Vegas-schlock mode, with predictable brass and diamond-studded suits and semi-naked chicks in feathers and boas, as I envisage it. And not an ounce of real energy either.

Elsewhere, though, Carl falls back on modern production values and trendy dance beats again - resulting in tracks like 'What You Do To Me', which are right there together with the worst material Mike Love and his Bleach Boys ever dared to heap upon us. I don't usually quote bad lyrics because not everybody can be a Dylan or a Lou Reed, but I can't help myself this time - when you have a chorus that goes 'What you do to me, feels like poetry, if I only knew what you do to me', you would quote it too. Hey, if poetry felt like that, how come we don't see Blake, Byron, and Rimbaud on the New York Times bestseller list?

Bad luck keeps hitting everywhere. The more "rocking" numbers are again gruesomely overproduced, and on songs like 'She's Mine' Carl overemotes to the point that we can easily understand - his soul is a million miles away from this crap. The naggin' question is, if it is, what was the point of leaving the Beach Boys in order to do this? To prove to himself his total creative sterility, so he could forget about going solo once and for all? There's more than the usual "whenever a Beach Boy tries to rock out, there's trouble ahead" family curse at work here; there's a total inability to write a good song, be it a rock'n'roller or a dance-pop number, plus an inability to even cover a good song.

Again, some face is saved on the ballads, because that's the man's forte, after all. But even the ballads are overproduced and not particularly memorable this time around - 'Givin' You Up' has a warm, soothing feel to it, but once the arena-tinged chorus comes along, all subtleness and sense of taste is lost. 'One More Night Alone' sounds like an Elton John throwaway around the times of Blue Moves, with synthesized chimes replacing the piano and a trivial adult contemporary musical development. 'If I Could Talk To Love' is probably the best of these, with the best vocal performance on the album; but had I heard it somewhere else, I probably wouldn't even begin paying attention, and there's nothing to even remotely associate it with the usual Beach Boys balladry style.

On gut reaction level, maybe only a couple of the more obnoxious dance-pop numbers here are cringeworthy, but it doesn't really matter because in view of the better stuff that was going on back then, this is entirely expendable. My remark about the Cars in the opening tagline wasn't just an ad hoc remark - I mean, many songs here really do sound like The Cars, whether it be the rockier stuff or the sappier stuff, but the Cars made their goshdarn living with these melodies and arrangements, pouring whatever talent they had into it, while Carl here looks like a generic untalented acolyte of the genre. It is unsurprising, then, that he flocked back to the band as soon as, or even before, the album was released; apparently, some people just cannot work "on their own". It took quite a bit of time before he even began thinking of releasing a solo project, and even then it was a collaboration with two other guys, more than a decade later. Alas.

Granted, now that I think of it, Carl wasn't a huge creative force within the Beach Boys either. He had that very brief, very subtle moment of songwriting glory around the time of Surf's Up, but elsewhere he'd always been outshined by Brian, Dennis, and - oh God - even Mike and Al, or, at best, contributed these R'n'B-influenced compositions that would have been nil without the group's technical support. So, all odds considered, maybe this solo career was bound to fall. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, after all.



(released by: DENNIS WILSON)

Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 12

Like an OCD version of Brian Wilson circa 1966 - lots of disconnected, disjointed beauty.


Track listing: 1) River Song; 2) What's Wrong; 3) Moonshine; 4) Friday Night; 5) Dreamer; 6) Thoughts Of You; 7) Time; 8) You And I; 9) Pacific Ocean Blues; 10) Farewell My Friend; 11) Rainbows; 12) End Of The Road.

If you ever nurtured any naive theories about the Artist's Art reflecting the Artist's Personality, forget about it with this album. In real life, Dennis - at least that's the way he's always depicted - was a pissin' nightmare, and by the time he had his infamous drowning, bankrupt, thrown out of his home, unable to deal with his booze problem in any way, and having lost most of his friends, you almost cease to have any pity for the swine: he deserved this, pure and simple. But then you take a listen to this album and you find another Dennis: a loving, gentle, immeasurably subtle and touchin' artistic being, spilling his heart out on record in a way the Beach Boys would already never be able to do collectively since the sterilization of their image with 15 Big Ones. How could such a disgusting person make such a beautiful album? The one true answer, of course, is that it's one thing to elevate yourself to the level of abstract beauty and Love, and another thing to practice the same on your everyday level. But you knew that, didn't you?

In any case, Pacific Ocean Blue is indeed a weird, crazy, and beautiful album. I would personally place it together with these "crazy-o" half-confession, half-delirium albums by artists like Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, or Alex Chilton in his Third/Sister Lovers period; meaning it has a very unusual, rather inaccessible charm of its own, no or next to no instantly memorable tunes, atmosphere a-plenty, and unique playing or instrumentation by somebody who either doesn't know how to play his instruments, or has forgotten how to play them due to extreme mental conditions, but still wants to play them passionately and sincerely. That's Pacific Ocean Blue all right.

Most of the songs sound like homerecorded demos with a few special effects splurged randomly as an afterthought - with Dennis himself responsible for all of the keyboard parts and a large part of the drumming. although, to be honest, there was quite a bunch of other musicians helping him to get along (no Beach Boys, though: apparently, Dennis' contract prevented any other Wilsons from assisting the guy, and knowing Dennis, I'd warrant he wouldn't let Mike Love within ten miles of his studio - not that Mike ever felt the urge himself). If you are well familiar with Sunflower, the one album where Dennis almost came close to having total creative control over the band, you will notice the overall style hasn't changed much since then: Dennis still likes bleepin' robotic synths poppin' in in all the wrong places (which then later on turn out to be all the right ones), simple, but pretty piano melodies, and still sings in the same rough, but sincere and loveable voice. Only you have to multiply all this by ten, because on Pacific Ocean Blue Dennis runs wild with this stuff - add to this the evergrowing booze problem, the evergrowing woman problem, the death of a friend or two, and constant bickerings with the band, and you start vaguely getting the idea. It's a strong, hard-hitting album, and that's important to realize, considering that not a single song on here is truly memorable.

There are a couple "brighter" numbers, where it seems as if Dennis wants to pull out something in the 'don't worry be happy' manner of contemporary Beach Boys, but even these turn astray, considering Dennis' misuse of major chords and inability to sing cheerfully, like Mike does. 'What's Wrong' has him chanting 'I believe in rock'n'roll' to a merry accompaniment of slow boogie piano and exuberant saxes and trombones, yet the results are rather confused than uplifting - as if the song were performed by a disillusionned druggie (well, Dennis pretty much was one) instead of a light-headed saturday-night-rocker. 'Rainbows' shines in a whole sea of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and pianos, but once again, for some reason I see Dennis delivering the song from out of the nearest gutter, a bottle of brandy still clutched in hand.

So you can see: if even the "happier" songs tend to confuse you, then the "unhappier" songs will be more depressing than contemplating the entire area of XXth century global politics. 'Dreamer' rolls along with so much struggle and so much pain... not a single other Beach Boy, not ever, has expressed so much pain on record. Which reminds me - all of the Beach Boys had their ups and downs, but only Dennis ever had the gall (or the madness?) to take some of the actual pain and suffering and put it on record; even brother Brian used to wrap his pain up in a glossy package and deliver it as a gift of religious beauty, regardless of what was actually hidden deep inside. But when the insane brass section explodes at the climactic moments of 'Dreamer', it's painful - and really cathartic in a way Brian never ever dared to try. Or listen to the "psychedelic" midsection in 'Thoughts Of You', with Dennis' tortured voice sort of rising out of the depths of Hell to drag you back there with him.

The funky title track, with all of its cosmic synth bleeps, disjointed backing vocals, and another magnificent vocal delivery, is a major highlight as well; but arguably the guy is at his very, very best when toning down and doing stuff like 'Farewell My Friend' - a dirge for a real departed friend of his, so achingly sincere it's impossible not to sympathise. It's a classic case of a song where a professional, well-attuned, flawless vocal delivery would kill off ninety percent of the excitement; only Dennis' hoarse, stuttering, heartfelt voice feels right at home here (although I'd bet you anything Dylan would do the song justice). And for closers, let's not forget the opener - 'River Song' is a country-western-meets-gospel-and-soul number that kicks the shit out of The Band even, not to mention lesser candidates; it's so good Brian even "sampled" the 'rolling, rolling, rolling on' motive later for his 'Rio Grande' suite.

In short, this is not a must for Beach Boys fans: the record is way too out-of-tune with what we usually think of the Beach Boys, and I'm not just speaking of the surf image. But the open-minded Beach Boys fan will certainly look past that, and learn to treasure this kind of musical approach. It's fun to know the record was released the same year that Love You came out - both are similar in that they're honest, rough, and somewhat crazy confessions of the heart, one by Dennis, and one by Brian. But Dennis' album is undoubtedly the darker and more depressing one, in fact, the darkest album to ever come out of the whole Beach Boys environment, and deserves attention for that alone.


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