Brian Wilson 1942–
American songwriter, musician, musical arranger, and producer. Wilson's music is noted for authentically capturing the American teenage experience and for helping to create the international image of Southern California as a youthful utopia. The Beach Boys, which he formed as a teenager with his two brothers, Carl and Dennis, a cousin, Mike Love, and a friend, Al Jardine, gained fame in the early sixties with songs that depicted a mythic world of long-haired girls and golden boys who live for surfing, cars, and long summer nights. Wilson's descriptions of this free lifestyle did not come from experience; he wrote as an outsider looking in, and built his career out of his displacement. His music, which started as confident and joyous in the surf genre he created, gradually became more introspective with songs like "In My Room" and "When I Grow Up." Filled with inner turmoil, pain, and longing, these songs were wrapped in lush arrangements and were characterized by their distinctive chord progressions and unique harmonies. Influenced by the close-harmony vocals of the Four Freshmen, the jaunty rockers of Chuck Berry, and, especially, the mini-operas of producer Phil Spector, Wilson concentrated on creating and overall sound that would be both musically innovative and commercially successful, much as the Beatles were doing. The Beach Boys became phenomenally successful, and demands were made on Wilson to churn out hit singles in the fun-and-sun mold despite his own desire to concentrate solely on improving his composing and production talents. This pressure on his creativity caused him to retreat further into himself, and he stopped performing with the group and suffered a series of breakdowns. After the commercial failure of Pet Sounds, an album which some critics consider both Wilson's definitive work and a milestone in pop music, he retreated from the music scene, and the group floundered without his leadership. Musically, he released fragmented but exciting works such as Smiley Smile, but seemed to lose interest in his work and entered a period of creative inertia. During the late sixties and early seventies The Beach Boys became considered a reactionary, clean-cut anachronism that had no relation to a period of social change and revolution. Wilson's lyrics were criticized as being sophomoric, weak, and unworthy of the maturity of the music, and he became more well known for his eccentric behavior than for the quality of his work. However, the band returned to public favor in 1974, after dogged touring and the success of a greatest-hits compilation. Wilson returned to the group in 1976, but their recent albums have achieved only minimal success. It has been argued that no songwriter has been better at depicting the joy and sorrows of adolescents than Wilson, in a language that was specifically their own. Certainly many young people have related to his innocent, lyrical yearnings and have appreciated his undeniable musical gifts.
I think "Pet Sounds" is probably one of the best produced albums out, but it suffers because of it. I managed to listen to one side of it, and I heard just about a bellyfull. At times it was beautiful but the words were hazy which may have been unintentional—or that may have been the idea. It was rather a lazy record. Sometimes boring—not because of the way it was done—but the slight monotony. I've got "Beach Boys Today!" which is rougher but more exciting. Actually "Pet Sounds" reminded me of two classical composers—who I prefer—and shouldn't really compare, but it has similarities to Palestrini, and, also what happened to Mozart and Turner the painter in mid-career. Their techniques became immaculate and their production fantastic and you thought "who the hell managed to produce this?" That's how I feel about the Beach Boys. I preferred them when they were young and more loose and rough, as I did Turner and Mozart when they got older and loosened up. I agree it's probably revolutionary but I'm not sure that everything that's revolutionary is necessarily good. I'm not being antiprogressive—but I'm not convinced they're always good. (p. 8)
Barry Fantoni, in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), July 30, 1966.
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I think that "Pet Sounds" is the most progressive album of the year in as much as Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherezade" was. It is the pop equivalent of that. A complete exercise in pop technique. Personally I consider it to be a fantastic album. The lyrics are tremendous. The way Wilson has suited them to the songs is outstanding. I see pop music as a form of escapism, and "Pet Sounds" is a great example of escapism. (p. 8)
Andrew Oldham, in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), July 30, 1966.
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The Beach Boys have tried faithfully to render who and what they are. That what they are is in some ways a simply (existential but) foolish denial of reality, that Hawthorne is not the world that Watts is, is nothing other than the fact that art, like human action, when it impersonally duplicates reality, is more schizophrenia.
The group takes risks, however. After Pet Sounds, the only flaw of which was its indulgence in a sometimes over-lush sound, they cleaned up and came out with Smiley Smile, so controlled, precise and tight that it risked (and at times lost to) sterility. "Wild Honey" bet on keeping tight and somehow simultaneously releasing everything they had in a sustained emotional burst. The bet paid off. Friends is a transition…. Occasionally lapsing into the style of Pet Sounds (as on "Diamond Head," which is not as good as anything on that earlier LP), they more often mix the dry, silly-but-witty (like a fatigue high) style of Smiley Smile with the harder-driving, less still, more emotional feel of Wild Honey.
The best cuts are "Meant For You," the dedication: "Friends," a more mature (in that it lacks their usual immediacy) evocation of the surfer "pack" or "club" vision—why go out with a girl when you can go cruising with the guys on Saturday nights? It's really warm, simple, touching, saying in not so many words that friendship isn't about words. Other...
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[The Beach Boys] are moving forward all the time.
Each Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds has been (or seemed) a little less sophisticated. Retrogression? Not at all, but to prove that, we'd better decide what "forward" is.
Forward is the direction in which time moves. It's kind of like "out," which is the direction in which cosmic matter moves. There is no possibility of reversal inherent in this movement, nor even of angular shift. Those concepts have no meaning. Can a line stretching from zero towards infinity turn around? I mean, try to visualize it. At best, it would no longer be a line; and the basic assumption we make in calling something a line is that it is, at least, a line. So forward is a description of how time moves, just as outward might describe how space moves, if we think of "space" the concept rather than the objects that move about within space.
Now, "forward" as applied to the Beach Boys must have to do with their relationship to time. Do they move forward in time (or rather, with it)? Yes, of course, everybody does. Do they make progress? To answer that, we must consider their work as existing in time, and ask: is there a real movement (if there is, it couldn't be anything but forward) from the Beach Boys' earlier creations to their more recent ones? Not, do they get better?—that would require a highly subjective judgment (I, personally, do not think they get...
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Brian Wilson and company are currently at the center of an intense contemporary rock controversy, involving the academic "rock as art" critic-intellectuals, the AM-tuned teenies, and all the rest of us in between.
As the California sextet is simultaneously hailed as genius incarnate and derided as the archetypical pop music copouts, one clear-cut and legitimate query is seen at the base of all the turmoil: how seriously can the 1968 rock audience consider the work of a group of artists who, just four years earlier, represented the epitome of the whole commercial-plastic "teenage music industry?"…
The answer is a simple one. The Beach Boys' approach to their music is as valid now as it was in 1962 and vice versa. Brian Wilson owes no one any apologies for his music, present or past.
The most popular charge leveled at the Beach Boys is their apparently excessive immersion in and identification with mass culture and "commercialism"…. [An] association with mass culture was indeed a characteristic of the Beach Boys' music up until 1966. Moreover, it was an "honest" association…. Wilson's world circa 1962 was seriously involved with all the then dead serious/now ludicrous manifestations of adolescence: hot rods, surfing and making-out in the school parking lot really do exist. A fascination with popular culture has proven to be a significant part of the twentieth century artist's personality....
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After a long period of recovery, mediocrity, and general disaster, the Beach Boys have finally produced an album [Sunflower] that can stand with Pet Sounds: the old vocal and instrumental complexity has returned and the result largely justifies the absurd faith some of us have had that the Beach Boys were actually still capable of producing a superb rock album—or, more precisely, a superb rock muzak album. "Add Some Music to Your Day"; hip supermarkets might program this album for contented browsing among the frozen vegetables and canned fruit.
As a reassuring note, most of the lyric impotence of the group remains, though not so prominently displayed as on colorful recent outings as Friends…. [The] tracks are executed with a certain aplomb that often was lacking in post-"Good Vibrations" Beach Boy music, as if the self-consciousness of such homogenizing enterprise as making a new Beach Boy record has been again overcome. As a result, the naivete of the group is more astounding than ever—I mean, good Christ, it's 1970 and here we have a new, excellent Beach Boy's epic, and isn't that irrelevant?
In any case, Brian's new stuff is great, especially "This Whole World" and "All I Wanna Do." (pp. 325-26)
The inevitable saccharine ballads are present in abundance. "Deirdre" and particularly Brian's "Our Sweet Love" rejoin the ongoing tradition of "Surfer Girl," although "Our Sweet...
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Just as it's tied to emotional memories, so most pop music evokes specific times of year. Most of the best pop picks on summer, simply because that (idealistically speaking) is when the nights are longer, the girls are prettier, and you can take the hood off your sportycar and bomb off into the glorious sunset.
There's never been any better summer music than that created by Brian Wilson for the Beach Boys, between '62 and '67. More so even than Chuck Berry, Wilson's compositions sum up what pop was always about, and what we're the poorer for having lost.
The very early Sixties, the years just before the Beatles, were the most unproductive that white pop has known, until Wilson came along with "Surfin'," a weird mixture of goofy acappela-style vocal and Chuck Berry riffs recorded in the Wilson's garage—wouldn't you know? Their first album, titled "Surfin' Safari" …, was incredibly naive, a combination of Berry-derived songs and "Pipeline" style instrumental work. In "409," though, you could hear the beginnings of a choral style, those stripped-down harmonies charging behind the light lead voice….
"Surfin' Safari" …, the second album, contained intimations of genius. The title song was a straight rewrite of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," but "Farmer's Daughter" and "Lonely Sea" were something else again. They both used falsetto leads; Mike Love took "Daughter" at a fast clip while the other...
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Most people seem to love [Surf's Up]. They say the harmonies, production and instrumentation are perfect; they like the way it flows, its smoothness and sweetness. Surf's Up does possess all of these characteristics—it is made of ball-bearings, silicone and glycerine, with the friction kept down to a minimum. In essence, it is spun sugar, and that is precisely why I don't like it.
Consider the following hypothetical situation: the Vienna Boys' Choir, under the direction of Henry Mancini, records arrangements lifted from the California "cool jazz" school; the libretto is topical—lots of ecology, revolution, nostalgia and romanticism. Given a couple of years to play around in a well-equipped studio, and there is reason to believe they'd sound a lot like the Beach Boys.
This album is the safest thing I've heard in years, almost calculatedly inoffensive—something your mother could love. Consequently, its gut content is zero. People insist upon associating the word "genius" with Brian Wilson—perhaps an aftershock of "Good Vibrations"—but so far I can't see why. Genius leads a person to take chances, to experiment; craftsmanship, on the other hand, leads one to perfect a given trade—vocal arrangement, for example. And, while Brian Wilson may well be a master craftsman, thus far a genius he is not.
The Beach Boys are basically a contemporary version of a barber shop quartet. They...
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I've been waiting impatiently for [Surf's Up] since Sunflower, and the small letdown I feel could be the other side of that impatience, the wish that they could have kept it a little longer to make it perfect. In this case that would not be a matter of production … but rather of waiting for the material to even out in quality….
Still, I recall my own first reaction to Sunflower, some cuts at first seemed too thin, too light.
But the important thing about the Beach Boys is just this aspect of their music. The production is usually flawless and the melodies so frequently exquisite that one tends to hear, then listen for—and finally dismiss it as—surface. Yet the surface is manipulated so carefully and so brilliantly that (and here I am forced by a certain poverty of analogy to shift senses) it becomes hologrammatic. Cotton candy: bite into it and the pink fluff becomes sugar on your tongue—then, poof!—mere aftertaste. Yet wait, there's more pink fluff inside the cone, and more, and more … (Not to mention the best aftertaste in the business.)…
This is a good album, probably as good as Sunflower, which is terrific, and which I've had six months more to listen to. It is certainly the most original in that it has contributed something purely its own. Perhaps because of the ecology theme, it is not as joyous. But it will do to keep the turntable warm...
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Pet Sounds, aside from its importance as Brian Wilson's evolutionary compositional masterpiece, was the first rock record that can be considered a "concept album"; from first cut to last we were treated to an intense, linear personal vision of the vagaries of a love affair and the painful, introverted anxieties that are the wrenching precipitates of the unstable chemistry of any love relationship. This trenchant cycle of love songs has the emotional impact of a shatteringly evocative novel, and by God if this little record didn't change only the course of popular music, but the course of a few lives in the bargain. It sure as hell changed its creator, Brian, who by 1966 had been cruising along at the forefront of American popular music for four years, doling out a constant river of hit songs and producing that tough yet mellifluous sound that was the only intelligent innovation in pop music between Chuck Berry and the Beatles.
Previous Beach Boy albums were also based on strong conceptual images—the dream world of Surf, wired-up rods with metal flake paint, and curvaceous cuties lounging around the (implicitly suburban and affluent) high school. It was music for white kids; they could identify with the veneration of the leisure status which in 1963 was the ripest fruit of the American dream. It wasn't bullshit, you could dance your silly brains away to "Get Around" or "Fun Fun Fun" if you felt like it.
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There are vast differences between the 1966 and 1972 Beach Boys. This fact becomes painfully apparent with the release of their new double set Carl and the Passions—So Tough coupled with the re-release of their classic Pet Sounds. Spin for spin, Pet Sounds is the superior album. It soars. So Tough doesn't soar. It taxis all around the runway looking for a place to take off, but never quite finds it.
Of course, the biggest difference is one of leadership. In 1966, the Beach Boys were Brian Wilson's group. Their main function was to serve as the vehicle for Brian's unique and personal vision of life and reality. Nowadays, the musical chores are divided up pretty equally among all the group members resulting in a kind of conceptual schizophrenia.
There are just eight songs on So Tough; all would do better in the context of other Beach Boys albums…. There are occasional glimpses of familiar Beach Boys genius, but not enough to justify a new album.
Pet Sounds saves the day. It is every bit the masterpiece it was six years ago—still vital, still full of wonder, imagination and discovery. It is interesting to remember that Pet Sounds preceded Sgt. Pepper by a full year. It is a total album. In this major undertaking, Brian Wilson subtly, but masterfully, explored the thin line between adolescence and adulthood with tenderness, compassion and...
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["Holland"] contains more fun and beauty than any dozen efforts by more fashionable bands.
The overwhelming quality of "Holland" (so called because they recorded it in a town outside Amsterdam) is consistency, in two respects: first, it fits right in with the sequence of Beach Boys music from '62 on; secondly, the consistency of writing and performance is on a higher level than anything since, perhaps, "Pet Sounds"….
First question: what is B. Wilson's contribution this time out? Answer: less than I'd expected, but as it happens that doesn't hurt at all. With four collaborators … he composed the opening cut, "Sail On, Sailor", which is also the upcoming single, and although it lacks instant 45 rpm magic it's as crisp and cooling as fresh orange-juice…. [The] chorus sticks in your head like … well, like a Brian Wilson chorus should…. Lastly, Brian contributed a 12-minute fairy tale called "Mt. Vernon & Fairway," which comes on a separate 7-inch 33 rpm disc. Narrated by [Jack] Rieley in the approved Sparky's Magic Piano style, it's about a prince and a magic transistor radio, has lashings of amusing background noises from the amazing Wilson brain, and is performed in exactly the right tone for [children's program] Junior Choice—on which it deserves to make regular appearances for years to come….
I expect more from the Beach Boys than from anyone else, and "Holland" has the goods....
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[Except] for Dick Dale's, no surf music came out on major labels before the Beach Boys proved it could be more commercial than anyone had dreamed. They did it by blending together—probably not too consciously—elements of all the disparate styles they'd heard in records they liked, and they had the good taste to prefer the kind of records that approached a sort of summation of teenage consciousness. By distilling the essence from these, the Beach Boys emerged as perhaps the ultimate in teenage rock-and-roll groups.
Influenced by various Fours (Freshmen, Preps, Seasons), they added to the standard surf instrumentation a thick vocal sound laden with harmonies, falsetto singing, and constant background vocals. And their voices, rather than aping Little Richard and James Brown (as singers in white bands were wont to do in those days) or the New York doo-woppers, preserved a wholesome, clean-cut, high-school-cocky tone that identified them even more closely with their audience. The final touch was provided by Brian Wilson, whose obsession with the records of Phil Spector led him to place greater emphasis on production and pure sound than just about anybody else who was recording in 1963.
In retrospect, the records that started it all don't sound all that hot. Surfin', Luau, and even Surfin Safari are primitive and amateurish. But to ears accustomed to endless guitar reworkings of 1952 Joe Houston...
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No group has as consistently made music celebratory of sun, fresh air and youth as the Beach Boys and it is particularly appropriate that they should have two albums out during the present endless summer.
Hardly a June, July or August has passed since 1962 without a Beach Boys tune implanting itself in mind and heart, and 1976, what with bicentennial and all, will be no exception.
For me, this year's memory will be "It's O.K.", a Brian Wilson/Mike Love song from "15 Big Ones", which is vintage, euphoric, hot weather music….
"15 Big Ones" is not an "advanced" Beach Boys album. After a decade and a half of serious and immeasurably enjoyable progression they are putatively looking back to their earliest days in an attempt, perhaps, to rekindle the flame of youth, which is odd, for they have always had the touch of Peter Pan about them.
Their voices and music never grow old. Nevertheless, recreation is at the core of "15 Big Ones," with rearrangements (all by Brian) of oldies….
Of the new Beach Boys songs, two good Brian Wilson/Mike Love numbers eclipse the opening "Rock And Roll Music". They are "It's O.K." … and "Had To Phone Ya"…. It's a pretty song of love long distance….
The group is clearly building its energies before moving forward once more. As a new work "15 Big Ones" is no "Pet Sounds" or "Surf's Up", but it will most assuredly...
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Does Brian make that big a difference [in 15 Big Ones]? Not really.
There is no question that Brian Wilson is a genuine talent in American music (mind you, we're talking about a category somewhat beyond rock 'n' roll) and the controversy about whether he did or did not destroy/burn the famous Smile tapes just might be the valid rock equivalent to the search/confusion over the missing portions of [Erich] Von Stroheim's alleged film masterpiece Greed. Nevertheless, Smile was ten years ago and one can wait only so long for the vanquished hero to return. Unfortunately, on 15 Big Ones at least, he hasn't.
The overriding concept … behind 15 is not dissimilar to the recent work by another well-known concept artist, Todd Rundgren, on Faithful: re-recorded oldies mixed with new material.
The originals sound even more forced than the oldies. Whatever happened to Brian Wilson the composer, the guy who was someday supposed to write these symphonies and be like Beethoven or somebody? Here he's reduced to merely a glorified producer, an arranger no less. In his heralded comeback, Brian Wilson remains an invisible man and the state of his talent in the Seventies an unanswered question. (p. 64)
Bill Gubbins, in Creem (© copyright 1976 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), September, 1976....
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Gone are the white Levis, tennies and striped shirts. Gone too are the odes to affluent hedonism, replaced by a host of ecologic, mystic and poetic preoccupations. Yet despite the beards, beads and plugs for TM, the Beach Boys, after 15 years in the business, remain identifiably the Beach Boys. Alone among white American rock groups, their ingenuity has sustained them over a decade, at times shaping, at times ignoring the whims of passing fancy.
The elements of their style are by now legend: the vocals, densely clustered or moving in counterpoint, simultaneously frail and precise; the compositions, some complex, others elementary, some anthemlike, others confessional, some a catalog of clichés, others a revision of rock orthodoxy.
In the Sixties, when they were at the height of their original popularity, the Beach Boys propagated their own variant on the American dream, painting a dazzling picture of beaches, parties and endless summers, a paradise of escape into private as often as shared pleasures. Yet by the late Sixties, the band was articulating, with less success, a disenchantment with that suburban ethos, and a search for transcendence. It has been a curious trek from hot rods and high times to religion and conservation; yet through it all, the Beach Boys have remained wed to the California that Chuck Berry once called the "promised land"—and their resurgent popularity says as much about the potency of that...
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The dilemma facing the Beach Boys today is created simply by their audience's expectations. Those who throng to their concerts do so in anticipation of swooning to "Surfer Girl" and bopping to "Fun, Fun, Fun", and would be mightily put out were these demands denied.
On the other hand, critics and old-time aficionados approach each new album with an equally understandable lust for the exploratory daring enshrined in the likes of "Wendy", "Caroline No", "Wind Chimes" and "Surf's Up".
"15 Big Ones", the 1976 album which featured Brian Wilson's first wholehearted studio participation in several years, suffered a cruel backlash from the latter camp, whose members refuse to acknowledge that although former heights may one day be scaled and even surpassed, now is not the time.
"Pet Sounds" and "Smile" were conceived in an era (immediately after Kennedy) conducive to experimentation; by contrast, the post-Nixon age encourages the flippant, the nostalgic, and the easy, empty gesture. Most critics carelessly misread the intentions and function of "15 Big Ones", an album perfectly wedded to its time: perhaps no pop album in a decade has been so easy to put on at a party, or while doing chores, in the way that one used pop albums in the days before "Rubber Soul"; in the way, of course, that one used "The Beach Boys Today" and "Summer Days (And Summer Nights)". It's not too fanciful to suggest that the American...
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[There] is one group—and one group only—for whom [a] preoccupation with the aging process seems to have no relevance whatsoever. (p. 67)
[Despite] the attrition of years, the virtual disappearance of the surf and car culture from which they sprang, and the inevitable distancing from their audience their growth from boys to men must bring, the Beach Boys are still fueling the fantasies of adolescents and of those of us long beyond them. This is a most remarkable achievement; other musicians who, like them, began their careers at the same age as their first fans have for the most part hung on to these same fans as the greater part of their audience. Paul McCartney, Dylan, the Stones, and the Who (to say nothing of Elvis, who is in many ways outside time entirely) have, to be sure, attracted new devotees. But only the Beach Boys' audience, among those of the classic rockers', seems to remain forever young, forever fifteen.
The answer, I think, has something to do with Innocence, which, like most things in life, is a much more complicated proposition than it at first appears. Certainly, the Beach Boys were innocents when they began; how could they, a bunch of teenagers growing up in an unremarkable suburb like Hawthorne, California, as a tight little family unit and interested in nothing more sophisticated than cars and girls, have been otherwise? You can see it on their earliest album...
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The Beach Boys Love You is a truly wonderful album, and it is Brian's show from beginning to end. He wrote 11 of the 14 songs and coauthored the others. In light of last year's events—15 Big Ones is easily the worst album in the Beach Boys' long history—its success is even more amazing. The bad songs here are really embarrassing—"Let's Put Our Hearts Together," a duet between Brian and wife Marilyn, and "Love Is a Woman," with Brian's achingly strained vocal, should never have been released—but mostly this album presents a Brian Wilson who is again comfortable in the recording studio, functioning at a level not too far removed from his better days.
As usual, the strengths are musical, the weaknesses lyrical. Wilson's lyrics have always reached clumsily for rhymes and images, and the content has often been silly and childlike. But the fact that he's not trying to be either profound or cute redeems him—you wince, but you also smile. As often as not, it is the very simplicity and warmth of spirit in the words teamed with the very complex and well thought out arrangements that win you over. (pp. 63-4)
The Beach Boys Love You is reminiscent of many other Beach Boys albums. Like the best of them, it's flawed but enjoyable. Brian Wilson still isn't singing as well as he used to, but his playing and composing talents have certainly returned from wherever they've been the past few years....
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There is no TM song, no music-is-swell song, or "unfolding enveloping missiles of soul," or political/ecological commentary [in The Beach Boys Love You]. Instead, what we have here is a collection of 14 Brian Wilson compositions (three are collaborations) and a return to the Beach Boys' musical-thematic values of the late 1960's. If the group had been traders in the slobbery hogwash endemic to the era, that would hardly be news worth celebrating; but who would be grumpy enough to complain when faced with a distillation of Pet Sounds atmospheric cohesiveness, Wild Honey plains peak domesticity and stripped-body instrumentation, Smiley Smile jokiness and Friends unadorned sentimentality. It would serve people who cavil about Wilson's lyrics right if Jack Rieley were to make a return as wordsmith.
All talk about Brian's "comeback" aside, The Beach Boys Love You does show clearly how much his guiding vision was missed; his musicianship is continually surprising, subtle and tricky. This LP achieves through the use of synthesizer a unity of tone that has been absent from Beach Boys albums since his role was usurped by participatory democracy. He really does give them direction, deepening the sound without being heavy-handed…. [There's] complexity in the arrangements that makes them endlessly listenable.
And then there are those lyrics. While one may be totally disarmed by couplets...
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Brian Wilson's special magic in the early and mid-1960s was that he was at one with his audience. There was no "writing down" to the listeners. Brian had a teenage heart, until it was broken. Before that happened, Brian used the Beach Boys music to "invent" California.
California has always occupied an exalted position in popular American culture, whether it was the Gold Rush days or the heyday of Hollywood. Brian Wilson's particular California Myth is a product of the 1960s, and it is important to remember that to teenagers in 1961, California was just a state, not yet a state of mind….
For kids whose oceans and beaches were made by intersecting asphalt and fire hydrants, whose winters were filled with long, cold, snowy nights, California had to be the end of the rainbow. (p. 7)
The California clichés really haven't been changed or challenged since Brian Wilson created them fifteen years ago. For teenagers, they remain incredibly powerful fantasies, so powerful that in 1978 they have become institutionalized clichés….
The myth was at its most potent in the early sixties before my generation came of age and decided that what Los Angeles had to offer wasn't worthwhile. When Southern California did epitomize the ideal youth, when the drive-in movie screens were showing films like "Girls on the Beach" or "Beach Blanket Bingo," the Beach Boys represented that way of life to the...
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You go to a rock and roll show in the hope of being moved by the unexpected; you go to see an institution, like the Lincoln Memorial, or the Grand Canyon, or the Beach Boys, to be moved by the expected—to trigger a response you already know is there. That they continue to be a working band, nominally in the present tense, hardly matters. The albums of new material that they release from time to time simply aren't part of the legend; they're appendages, and they feel incomplete, because the audience, the community of belief that made the Beach Boys' fantasies come to life, doesn't exist in the present tense to sustain them. Only as evokers of the past, passive agents of their fans' desire, does the band become whole again. The critical difference between the Beach Boys myth of 1965 and today is that the community of belief has turned into a community of suspended disbelief which makes the band's job slightly easier.
The point came clear during the second half of the Beach Boys' concert at Radio City Music Hall, the first show of a four-night stand there last week. After an abbreviated version of their current single, the discofied reworking of Wild Honey's "Here Comes the Night," Mike Love announced—rather nervously—that they were going to play four more songs off their new LP, L.A. (Light Album), which will be in the stores next week. The audience was receptive enough, but you could feel them counting; when Love...
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The finest wit, the most affecting, and the most difficult to achieve, is the wit of tolerance. The Beach Boys have become masters of this medium in recent years. Although their output has been worrisomely uneven, they have not, as some argue, "gone soft." The Beach Boys have never worked with the facile arts of cynicism: so, in the Sixties, simple minds believed their surfing records to be naive, because they were uncontemptuous … so, in the Seventies, simple minds believe the Beach Boys are dead, because they are unrepentent.
The Beach Boys are not dead, as this fine album ["L.A. (Light Album)"] proves. Their gentle wit begins in the title, a double pun. For not only does LA stand for "Light Album" (at which unperceptive listeners may dismiss it)—the "Light," we are told, refers to "the awareness … and presence … of God."…
"Here Comes The Night" does for the dance-floor what "I Get Around" did for the wood-panelled station wagon. It's a disco record, a Beach Boys record and a great record, in no particular order.
The rest of "L.A." is comprised of short, melancholy, exquisite ballads. "Angel Come Home" is a great pop record on an old theme. "Good Timin'" and "Full Sail" are songs with positive messages that make you feel sad; its clear how imperfect we are, how pathologically misunderstanding and misunderstood, how seeing the light and employing it are not the same thing. That they...
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The Beach Boys are easily the most overrated group in rock & roll history—which presents the reviewer with a problem: simply stating the facts invites an overreaction from the band's maundering cult who exaggerate the surf bums' importance. But the truth is that Brian Wilson was never a musical genius, though he executed some of the most crafty reworkings of Phil Spector's production style ever done and, for a few years, tapped into the heart line of teenage lifestyle; that the Beach Boys have not made great rock music since Wild Honey; that the Beach Boys have not made competent pop music since Holland.
Like the LPs that preceded it, L.A. (Light Album), the Beach Boys' CBS-distribution debut, offers hope to the faithful with a mix of the barely listenable and distant echoes of the good old days. Even the vaunted disco track, "Here Comes the Night," is not so much a sellout as it is simple padding….
Don't get me wrong. It would be easy to attack L.A. (Light Album) as an awful record, if only out of spite for being bored to death by the jabbering of the Beach Boys' champions. But this LP is worse than awful. It is irrelevant. (p. 57)
Dave Marsh, in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1979; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 292, May 31, 1979.
(The entire section is 225 words.)