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 until their next…. They remain unique, and though they still promise more than they deliver, this group has delivered plenty throughout its history. For that reason, they are perhaps still the most important—and certainly the most "accomplished"—of all American groups.
You can come home, guys, all is forgiven. (p. 49)
Arthur Schmidt, in Rolling Stone Magazine (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 93, October 14, 1971.