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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Beach Boys: Beach Boys


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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  1. I think this is an upswing from "Keeping the Summer Alive" simply because it sounds like the band was actually tying here. I know it took them 10 months (!!) as opposed to the 10 weeks Levine predicted so it better have had some work put into it.

    Your enjoyment of the album does kind of depend on your tolerance of 80's cheese. I know you have very little, George and I understand: neither do I. The production really drags you down as do the arrangements. However, there are a handful of great melodies and hooks in the songs that help them stand out better than the murk of "KTSA." The Brian songs, while not at all close to his best, are at least (as you said) carefully done. Again, Brian kind of comes out of nowhere to save the band: "Male Ego" might be the highlight.

    Bruce is at least limited to one song: it's pretty schlocky but so was "Disney Girls." They both have good melodies but are both a bit...corn dog.

    Carl's songwriting improves slightly in that he seems to be working out his melodies better and actually taking great care to make them sound a bit different. He sporadically succeeds but his hard work is often ruined by bland production values.

    Mike comes through with corn ball nostalgic anthem "Getcha Back" which is at least catchy and memorable. Other problems come from "Passing Friend" which I had stuck in my head the other day, the "there's nothing worse than a passing friend" line but that's probably because they repeat it constantly. Stevie does no wonders for the band here.

    The absolute last album worth a crap in the band's catalog. I mean, it's not a really low point but it's not a high point either. It does sound like the band actually cared here (much more so than the flaccid KTSA) and went through great pains to progress, stay contemporary and write good, catchy songs that would stick in your head. They mostly succeed but at the expense of good taste.

    Are you going to review anything else after this? I mean... Still Crusing is one of the most pathetic cash ins ever and I've never even heard that awful dolphin covered, John Stamos having album. I forget the name of it. It's supposedly a Mike Love solo album in all but name. Ouch.

  2. Dean "Near the Lake (Ontario) Guy" LaCapraraJanuary 11, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    Worse than L.A. but I still enjoy hearing most of these songs occasionally. Bought vinyl copy in the late 1980s and spin it for the fine songs except the unbearably overrated "Getcha Back"/"California Calling" (really bad). We miss you Dennis, Carl also gone but in good shape back then. Even king BW was healthy again!
    George: you should've did Rarities before this. It arrived two years earlier with some cool alternate or unreleased things as of then.

  3. Their third worst album (can you guess the two that are worse? hint: they were both released after this one). The production infuriates me to no end, and is pretty much the only reason I prefer KTSA. You could at least mix a couple of those tracks in with other BB songs on a comp or mix-tape just fine, but not these! I have incredible difficulty listening to this album. Brian saves the day with a couple winners, and some of the other tracks would be fine enough if not for the production. It was their last stab at actually putting effort into an album, so I'll give it minor respect for that. But mostly: ttbbbbthththt (that's me sticking out my tongue).

  4. I never hated this album as much as Summer, but it's still pretty mediocre as far as it goes.

    Things get worse after this, though. Much, much worse. Still Crusin' and Summer in Paradise can and do qualify for "worst albums ever made".

  5. Okay, no one, and I mean absolutely no one (not the reviewer nor any commentator) even mentions "Where I Belong", which is easily the most beautiful song here and also, for my money, the last genuinely good Beach Boys least until "That's Why God Made The Radio". This song stands heads and shoulders above everything else on the album.