Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Comeback Album of the Year?

The Beach Boys : I'll Bet He's Nice


On April 11, 1977 The Beach Boys released  The Beach Boys Love You, an album some fans consider a masterpiece because it marks the return of a drug addled, almost child-like Brian Wilson into the fold. Wilson wrote 11 of the 14 songs here. The result is fascinating, disappointing, disturbing and so heavily reliant on keyboards, it has been called the first ever electro pop album.

In his 2016 autobiography, Brian Wilson writes 

I was able to use the studio again the way I used it with Pet Sounds, and I wrote some songs that were about how I felt in my thirties , the same way that Pet Sounds was about how I felt in my twenties. I wanted to make a record to help everyone around me feel better.

He also writes about using synthesizer bass lines, using an ARP and a Moog synthesizer ( which you can hear to full effect on "I'll Bet He's Nice").

The way it is on Love You, it's an amazing machine bass sound that just pulls the whole song into it. It's like an undertow. Those were some of the best bass lines I ever wrote.

Many critics were baffled, but Robert Christgau immediately announced his love for the album :

Painfully crackpot and painfully sung, but also inspired, not least because it calls forth forbidden emotions. For a surrogate teenager to bare his growing pains so guilelessly was exciting, or at least charming; for an avowed adult to expose an almost childish naivete is embarrassing, but also cathartic; and for a rock and roll hero to compose a verbally and musically irresistible paean to Johnny Carson is an act of shamanism pure and simple. As with Wild Honey, the music sounds wrong in contradictory ways at first--both arty and cute, spare and smarmy--but on almost every cut it comes together soon enough; I am especially partial to the organ textures, and I find the absurd little astrology ditty, "Solar System," impossible to shake. As for the words, well, they're often pretty silly, but even (especially) when they're designed to appeal to whatever Brian imagines to be the rock audience they reveal a lot more about the artist than most lyrics do. And this artist is a very interesting case. A 

Rolling Stone's Billy Altman said the lyrics were often weak but the arrangements made The Beach Boys  Love You a "truly wonderful album": 

Musically, though, it's an arresting tour de force. The song opens with a piano playing a blues line with chain-gang overtones. Then the organ and synthesizer move in, accompanied by Dennis Wilson's spare snare drum, and near the end, a brief, taut organ interlude of short chords is accented by three short snare shots. It's simply masterful, in the unassuming way of Smiley Smile and Friends

There are rockers here: "Roller Skating Child," with a great lead guitar moving behind the three-part singing; "Honkin' Down the Highway" is Jardine's best vocal since "Help Me Rhonda"; "Mona" is two minutes of sheer joy, as Brian sings of his love for Phil Spector and his own version of the wall of sound carries you up and away. There are some beautiful love songs as well: "The Night Was So Young," with that Pet Sounds post-surf guitar off in the background; "I'll Bet He's Nice," with excellent use of synthesizer and Carl's soulful singing in the middle of the track; and "I Wanna Pick You Up," which has everything from an uncharacteristic chorus sung in unison to a five-part a cappella harmony ending. 

 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. Considering what he's been through, it's some accomplishment. Next time, Brian, let's get together and do it again. Okay?

Billboard's review was also positive:

The second Beach Boys album since Brian Wilson's return to musical creativity is something of a return to square one, in the most positive sense of the phrase. Without any overt surfing or auto racing songs, this LP brings back the direct, almost childlike naturalness of the quintet in its classic early period before it tried to get as significant and meaningful as all of the other major groups passing through the tail-end of psychedelic rock. The album provides no less than 14 short, cheerful songs of bouncy love or other good experiences, such as watching the host of the "Tonight Show" do his thing or playing with a baby. The basic rhythm tracks tend towards chugging keyboard/guitar figures that are as irresistible as they are unpretentious. The lyrics may not win any prizes for cleverness or profundity but the chirpy melodies and angelic vocal harmonies make their own in-depth statements. Welcome back, Brian. 

The Beach Boys Love You peaked at #53 on the Billboard album charts and finished #28 in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck is said to always pick up a copy of the album when he sees it to give to a friend. Clearly it's a cult album of the highest order. There isn't much to praise after this one. The Beach Boys became a full time nostalgia act and are the richer for it I suppose. What almost nobody expected was the exceptional release to come from drummer Dennis Wilson later in the year.

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