THE BEACH BOYS: BEACH BOYS (1985)
1) Getcha Back; 2) It's Gettin' Late; 3) Crack At Your Love; 4) Maybe I Don't Know; 5) She Believes In Love Again; 6) California Calling; 7) Passing Friend; 8) I'm So Lonely; 9) Where I Belong; 10) I Do Love You; 11) It's Just A Matter Of Time; 12) Male Ego.
Although, on the whole, this next attempt at «self-rebooting» (what with the eponymous title and all) belongs to the same category as Keepin' The Summer Alive (i. e. the «Facepalm» category), I have always thought of it as just a bit of a tiny improvement over the miserable cardboard facsimile of that 1980 disaster. Not too many people agree, though, and I get their point.
First, no Dennis. His contributions to Summer Alive were already non-existent, but they still had him pictured on the front sleeve, and, somehow, the very fact of his being alive and still composing always left hope that, one day, he'd be back out there with another 'Forever', or 'Cuddle Up', or, at least, a 'Love Surrounds Me'. With Poseidon's daughters putting a final stop to that hope on December 28, 1983, expectations for the band's next album were a priori lower than ever before.
Second, Culture Club. One might love Culture Club or hate Culture Club, but one thing is for certain: «Culture-Clubbing» the Beach Boys' style is simply one more of those «acts of senility» in which clueless old veterans turn to the «young 'uns» for directions, and, more often than not, come out looking utterly silly and even more clueless. Not only do Culture Club members guest on the songs and even contribute one original number, they also provide the band with their own producer, Steve Levine, and this means a sterile Eighties sound that may have been good enough for Culture Club, but is completely useless for the Beach Boys. Electronic drums, generic plastic-sounding synthesizers, the works.
Third, more of that trashy Mike Love-dominated nostalgia. The lead-in track, 'Getcha Back', co-written by Love with long-term Beach Boy partner Terry Melcher, sounds spliced together from a million old Beach Boy tricks (some of the high-pitched harmonies almost seem sampled from the likes of 'Hushabye'), then set to a booming electronic rhythm that is supposed to prove you how seamlessly and self-assuredly these lads have effected the transition into the modern age. Yes, this did work once — sixteen years earlier, when they first started tapping into the nostalgic vibe with 'Do It Again'. But let us not compare mainstream production (and songwriting!) values of 1969 with those of 1985. It is hard to do so and stay within diplomatic range. Besides, there is also 'California Calling', which shamelessly steals its intro from 'Surfin' USA' without listing Chuck Berry in the credits — disgusting, ain't it?
Fourth, a rather unhappy collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the horizon — a thing that, if ever it was bound to happen, should rather have happened around 1976, when Stevie was at his peak, than in 1985, when he had already lost too many of his teeth and was rapidly downgrading himself to the status of saccharine-addled middle-of-the-road housewife entertainer, with 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' already riding the charts for a year (sorry, Stevie). 'I Do Love You' belongs in the same dropbox: an inoffensive, unremarkable, watery composition, immediately recognizable due to Stevie's unmistakable piano and harmonica playing, and just as immediately disposable because it's little more than formula.
Fifth, lots of Carl Wilson's and Bruce Johnston's adult contemporary on here. Stuff like 'Maybe I Don't Know' and 'She Believes In Love Again' has its vocal hooks, but the instrumental sound is utterly rote (guitar soloing on 'Maybe I Don't Know' is even more tasteless than on 'Bluebirds Over The Mountains'), and Johnston's pathos on the latter number is unbearable.
So what could be the saving grace? Only a genuine comeback from Brian — and there are some tiny signs of it. The funny thing is, although he'd been steadily contributing scattered contributions for all the time since Love You, it was not until the Beach Boys had deteriorated into this pitiful «clueless old beard» act that he started recovering as a motivated songwriter. Although the Al Jardine-cowritten 'Crack At Your Love' is hideous (probably wrestled by force on the part of the «sunshine party», desperate for a new Brian Wilson upbeat love song), 'It's Just A Matter Of Time', 'Male Ego', and especially the heartbroken 'I'm So Lonely' are all songs that may not be very good, as such, but which reflect some genuine care — and point the way to highlights of Brian's upcoming solo career.
These tracks are few and in between, but, in my eyes at least, they save The Beach Boys from the impression of being that monumental Tower of Evil (Pretending to be Good) that Keepin' The Summer Alive turned out to be. It is formally the last album with notable involvement on Brian's part, and deserves at least to be mentioned as a historical footnote, with 'I'm So Lonely' and, perhaps, 'Male Ego' saved for future consumption on detailed anthologies. The inevitable thumbs down are, therefore, not quite as irate as last time around — and if you think Boy George and Stevie Wonder were rather poor choices to hang around in 1985, just wait and see what we have coming on subsequent «albums».
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