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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Beach Boys: Love You


THE BEACH BOYS: LOVE YOU (1977)

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.

This is what 15 Big Ones would have sounded like, had all of its songs been originals: the real culmination of the «Brian Is Back!» movement, for which we have to thank Brian's infamous the­rapist Eugene Landy — it was his strictest demand that Brian's return to regular composing work be part of the therapeutic treatment. The result was The Beach Boys Love You — the first album since Pet Sounds, on which all of the material was credited to Brian Wilson.

Curiously, Love You has been splitting Beach Boy fans for more than thirty years. The admirers point out that the album was the last artistically-oriented «non-product» offering from the band, the last one to truly and genuinely feature Brian in creative control, and simply the last one to con­sistently offer quality material. The detesters point out that most of the songs are too overtly child­ish (sometimes, downright stupid); the arrangements are a far cry from Pet Sounds, ranging from too primitive to too ugly; and Brian's handling of the lead vocals on most of the tunes is unbearable — with the previous four years of drugs and booze taking a heavy toll on his vocal cords, the former messenger of heaven has pretty much mutated into a hoarse hobo.

Both sides have their reasons. Love You is plagued by mostly inavoidable problems, and could have been much better. But it is also a record that really sounds like nothing else, and, although I cannot speak for everybody, I definitely vouch that there is a nerve channel to guide this music in­side one's subconscious — all you need to do is unlock it. Love You is, truly and verily, an al­bum by a madman undergoing therapy (as opposed to, for instance, Dennis Wilson's Pacific Oce­an Blue, released the same year, an album by a patient slipping into madness and desperation). Many of the songs almost give you the impression of an ailing genius «re-unlocking» his talent, as if slowly recuperating after a long-term physical and mental paralysis. So it is clumsy, naïve, childish, silly — and, at the same time, touching, inspiring, and quite optimistic.

The format of a typical Love You song is quite uniform. Dominated by Brian's piano or organ, built upon one or two repetitive hooks, featuring simple, but often grappling melodic hooks, and generally downplaying the band's vocal harmonies in favour of a rougher delivery. Lyrics still concentrate on love themes, but fairly often it is not even clear what is the object of love — 'I Wanna Pick You Up', sung by Dennis (who is, by now, closely competing with his brother for the «Booziest Downgrade in Beach Boy History» title), begins with the lines "I'd love pick you up / 'Cause you're still a baby to me", and ends with the risky suggestion of "pat, pat, pat her on the butt", hardly a preferable approach to one's girlfriend, but that is just the way Brian's strange mind happened to work at the time.

There is plenty of admirable weirdness on the album. 'Johnny Carson' is an anthem of admiration for the host of The Tonight Show that any normal person would consider to be tongue-in-cheek ("Who's the man that we admire? / Johnny Carson's a real live wire!"), but which, in Brian's con­science, most probably wasn't. 'Ding Dang' is a one-minute outtake from a «kiddie session» with Roger McGuinn as official guest, sounding like a «parody on parody» — all those early 1960s comic numbers processed through a sick mind's perspective. 'Mona', two minutes of Dennis how­ling out a repetitive vocal melody with an emphasis on repeating the first word of each line four times in a row. Some of the songs remind of the quiet pastoralism of Friends ('The Night Was So Young'); one or two, in an exceptional manner, come close to recapturing some of the complexi­ties and psychedelic nature of Smile ('Solar System'). There is even one very old outtake ('Good Time') that still features Brian's original voice — a jarring contrast, to be sure, but quite well ag­reeing with the overall confused nature of the album.

At the very least, Love You is utterly fascinating — that's for sure. As to whether it is enjoyable, well, I do not like either Brian's singing (the most soulful song on the album, 'Love Is A Woman', could certainly use a better vocalist) or his playing (that organ tone which, for reasons unknown, he fell in utter love with since 1976, is quite bland and ugly), but I find his ability to string notes toge­ther unimpaired, and what he may have lost in the «perfectionism» department, he had gai­ned in straightforwardness. Where a single Pet Sounds song probably took weeks and months to reach the desired state, a single song on Love You sounds, at least, as if it were composed, arran­ged, recorded, and mixed in about ten minutes, but with a certified supernatural being taking over the important parts of Brian's brain and directing him in just the right direction.

In other words, there is a certain odd streak of magic associated with Love You, and, apparently, I share the posi­tion of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on this one — he has gone on record claiming Love You to be his favorite Beach Boy album. Me, I am just a poor guy who would never dream of going that far, but I do refuse to let the shortcomings of the record overshadow its unique quality. Thumbs up from the proverbial bottom of the proverbial heart; no matter how much the brain is tempted to appeal the decision, it's way too much of a drag to prepare the proper papers.


Check "Love You" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Love You" (MP3) on Amazon

6 comments:

  1. George, your review of Beach Boys "Love You" is the best review of this very difficult album I have read. You nailed it!

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  2. Dean "Hate Mike Love the $ Hungry Bastard" LaCapraraDecember 16, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    Just like Pet Sounds and Friends, this cool record is both overlooked/underrated by critics (although most came around for PS eventually) and Brian Wilson's triumph. The other guys played or sang here yet every song is written and produced by our B.B. hero, occasionally composing with another.
    Digging the whole 35-year-old in a teenage state of mind plus most songs on Love You are worthy of repeated listens. Probably my only gripe is the finale, though stuff like "Johnny Carson"/"Solar System"/"Airplane" more than make up for it. Everybody sings at least one lead vocal with Mike's annoying nasal on thankfully very few!

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  3. Brian's "One from the Heart" but incredible. Brian was a completely washed up, burnt out guy under the thumb of Landy already (few realize he was ALREADY under the guy's spell at this point) but working hard. Still capable of genius without even trying. This album is the perfect example.

    Every song on this album is incredible. Beautiful melodies, incredible harmonies, beautiful key changes, odd timing switches and incredibly personal and heart felt lyrics and lead singing.

    Of course, there were a few problems: Brian was a hulk and a wreck of a man. His singing voice was gone and his patience was shot. He had no interest in pursuing "Beach Boys" style material. Instead, he recorded nearly every single instrument on this album by himself (including the hilarious drums) and drenched everything in organs, odd synths and piano.

    Nothing in the musical world sounds like this. Everything sounds like above average demos (which they essentially were) with the Beach Boys desperately trying to make it sound like a real Beach Boys album. Nice try but it doesn't work: it still sounds like the inner workings of the most talented madman of the time.

    I won't go into detail in individual songs of course. George does a great job with that. "Johnny Carson" and "Solar System" remain the daffiest songs in Brian Wilson's catalog but are so heart felt, honest and sincere they're nearly painful. The arrangement details are still quirky and strange: I'm quire sure there's only one cymbal used on the whole album (thrown in randomly during "Johnny Carson") and the whole album almost sounds early industrial. But with great melodies, lyrics that were seemingly written by a three year old, arrangements that could only have been written by a genius and harmonies that seem occasionally genius but occasionally tossed off.

    I'm not sure what else I can say: buy the album and groove to it. It's honestly my favorite Beach Boys (Brian Wilson) album because of its advantages and BECAUSE of its flaws. It's beautiful.

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  4. You gotta be in a really relaxed and playful mood to dig this album, but it clicks then. Doggone, that man had an ear for melodies, and I like the bizarre instrumentation, ridiculous synth bass and all. Very good overall, except for the somewhat pedophilic "Roller Skating Child".

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  5. I honestly believe that the reason why this album sounds so heartfelt lies in its vocal melodies - if Brian simply drawled on in a monotone voice through Solar System, no one would ever like it. Instead, hearing his voice crack up to his typical late 70's falsetto during the chorus, hearing him sing through "Neptune is god of the seeeeaaa-eeee, Pluto is too far to seeeee-eeee" makes you want to jump in and sing with him, no matter how corny the lyrics sound (he rhymed "sea" with "see"! Ugh!)

    The same story comes through during the ballads - The Night Was So Young's delicate, but childish beauty is in that vocal melody, classic Brian in form.

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  6. Time for a dissenting view. This album conjures up memories of this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIQx7SL03SI

    And this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ydj86dfm-zA&feature=relmfu


    I saw this "SNL" when it was broadcast, and my brother's comment was, "He seems nervous." That's a huge understatement! No matter how good the melodies and the primitive production, the lyrics and the vocals point, like "Smiley Smile" and "Mt. Vernon and Fairway" before it, to a highly disturbed, regressing mind. There may be some humor ("Johnny Carson") and heartfelt emotion ("..Night..", "Let's Put Our Hearts Together", in which Marilyn ranks third in the running for worst vocalist, behind Brian and Dennis), but they are mostly obscured by a most jittery, unsettling vibe. The one exception is "Honkin' Down the Highway". A wise choice for the single -- a jaunty tune and a great vocal by Al. But otherwise, I really put this in the bottom five Beach Boys releases -- it's too embarrassing and unnerving.

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