Brian Wilson Jim Miller - Essay

Jim Miller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Love" is almost reminiscent of the mood of Pet Sounds. Of course there is some lesser stuff here, like "At My Window." No matter: as a whole, Sunflower is without doubt the best Beach Boys album in recent memory, a stylistically coherent tour de force. It makes one wonder though whether anyone still listens to their music, or could give a shit about it. This album will probably have the fate of being taken as a decadent piece of fluff at a time when we could use more Liberation Music Orchestras. It is decadent fluff—but brilliant fluff. The Beach Boys are plastic madmen, rock geniuses. The plastic should not hide from use the geniuses who molded it. (p. 326)

Jim Miller, "'Sunflower'" (originally published in Rolling Stone, October 1, 1970), in The Rolling Stone Review by the editors of Rolling Stone (copyright © 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Pocket Books, 1971, pp. 325-26.