THE BEACH BOYS: M.I.U. ALBUM (1978)
1) She's Got Rhythm; 2) Come Go With Me; 3) Hey Little Tomboy; 4) Kona Coast; 5) Peggy Sue; 6) Wontcha Come Out Tonight; 7) Sweet Sunday Kinda Love; 8) Belles Of Paris; 9) Pitter Patter; 10) My Diane; 11) Match Point Of Our Love; 12) Winds Of Change.
Although I completely understand the regular fan disdain for M.I.U. Album, I have never really shared it. Yet on the surface, there seems to be every reason for hating it. With Love You failing to repeat the commercial success of 15 Big Ones, it was hardly surprising when Reprise Records, with which the band was now affiliated, refused to release Brian's subsequent project in the same vein, the much-bootlegged Adult / Child. This sent the band into further chaos, exacerbated by Brian once again retreating into drug asylum. Consequently, Mike and Al dragged Brian to Maharishi International University in Iowa, force-fed him some meditation, and, in between the three of them — Dennis and Carl are present only marginally, adding vocals on a couple of the tracks — quickly concocted this certified «piece of product» instead.
With Al Jardine as producer and Mike once again writing most of the lyrics to Brian's melodies (and thus, gaining access to the general «mood» of the songs), M.I.U. Album is a bizarre mix of retro light pop (which mostly dominates Side A) and contemporary light pop (Side B, with a little bit of contamination). This safeguards the record from being derided as either an «unabashed transformation into an oldies act» or a «cheesy attempt at trendy commercialization» — because it is both at the same time!
That said, at least the retro stuff, per se, is okay. Brian's 'She's Got Rhythm' and the cover of the Del-Vikings' old hit 'Come Go With Me', in particular, open the album with a solid 1-2 punch. Brian even somehow manages to resurrect the good old falsetto for 'She's Got Rhythm' (that's him, right?), and, as simple as the song really is, its melodic structure and vocal arrangements could easily land it into the «second-tier» group out of the band's pre-Pet Sounds years. Basically, so what if they are all fifteen years older and bearded? When the Beatles climbed out on the roof in 1969 and played the six-year old 'One After 909', it's not as if anybody complained.
Further in the band's favor, the arrangements on the retro-oriented stuff are much better here than they were on 15 Big Ones, with less emphasis on carnivalesque pump organ and glitzy brass and more on guitars, pianos, and group harmonies. Hence, a «generic» cover like Buddy Holly's 'Peggy Sue', no matter how superfluous, still sounds much more genuine than the butchered 'Rock & Roll Music'. And Brian's «sole survivor» from Adult/Child, 'Hey Little Tomboy', fares much better with Brian and Mike sharing the lead vocals and its thick instrumental arrangement than similar songs fared on Love You, even if the melody is more nursery-like.
On the down side, every now and then the retro spirit gets officially unbearable — most openly so on 'Kona Coast', which goes as far as to snatch the old vocal hook off 'Hawaii': a direct sequel to a fifteen-year old song that was originally geared towards fifteen-year olds is, on any rational planet of ours, considered «corny», and its «corniness» tends to be infectuous here — the more battered old tricks Mike, Al, and Brian pull out of the dusty hat, the more they embarrass their grown-up audiences.
But this downside does not even begin to compare with the downside of songs like 'Belles Of Paris', 'Match Point Of Our Love', and 'Winds Of Change'. The latter two, in particular, sound like they had been freshly extracted from some musty Top of the Pops show, surmising blue eyes, cowboy moustaches, modestly hairy chests, acoustic guitars, and so much «soul» your brain could easily drown in it. This is the first time the Beach Boys actually start paying attention to «pop fashion» in the 1970s, and I don't like it (big surprise) — I'd much rather hear a hundred new variations on 'Surfin' USA', no matter how hopelessly out of touch with said fashion.
In the big picture, M.I.U. Album was the final blow that destroyed the Beach Boys' reputation, and one from which the band never recovered. Brian could still materialize good melodies, but he was no longer responsible for shaping them out; and, although this record still manages to keep the nostalgic and the trendy tendencies somewhat apart, subsequent ones would squish them together, resulting in all sorts of horrendously tasteless mutations. Yet, on a song-by-song basis, M.I.U. Album probably has more good songs than bad ones, and a «simply good» Beach Boys song, even from their late period, is still worth hearing, liking, and owning. So I would recommend a little bit of sympathy for the record.
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