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