Wednesday, June 07, 2006

feel the love

There comes a time in the life of every man of a certain age when he finally GETS The Beach Boys' later material. It's something that took me a lot longer than most, following a summer spent working at the American Adventure theme park.

It was the height of the summer season so staff were working 12 hour days (30 minutes for lunch? Thanks!). I was working on an "attraction" called 'Surfin' USA', which consisted of a giant plastic wave with a surfboard attached. People would pay a couple of quid to stand on the surfboard and we would then take a POLAROID of them, which we'd put in a flimsy paper envelope.

Not exactly taxing. However, we had to play a "Best of the Beach Boys" tape (which included NOT ONE surf-based song!) on a loop all day. The album was 30 minutes long. After 24 plays, the "I wanna go home" refrain of "Sloop John B" really starts to mean something to you. It took me years to be able to listen to The Beach Boys without breaking out in a cold sweat.

"Pet Sounds" is for me a bit like "Citizen Kane" - I know I'm meant to like it a lot more than I do. It's like bran for the ears - you listen to it because it's meant to be good for you. And for such a supposedly great album, I find the child-like lyrical worldview a bit difficult to get past. Plus all of the songs (no matter how good) sound exactly the same. How is that meant to be an answer to "Revolver"?

However, when they all lose their minds, start consorting with mass murderers and make records tinged with a more psychopathic infantilism... Now that's a different matter.

The Beach Boys - Be Here In The Morning

How HIGH are those vocals???
This is the first track on "Friends", their 1968 album which followed on from the series of disasters that was "Smile/Smiley Smile/Wild Honey". They released the gentlest, simplest, shortest (26 minutes!), most melodic album of their careers, at a time of musical, social and political upheaval, making "Friends" the lowest-charting BB album (up to that point). Having said all that, is it me or is it just a bit creepy when they sing, "I only hope that you come here alone"?

The Beach Boys - Busy Doin' Nothing

I love the bizarrely mundane lyrics to this one - you can just picture Brian sitting in his sandpit with his dressing gown on, writing his lists and trying to think of his mate's phone number. And probably having a bit of a cry to himself. Am I being too dark here?? Whatever, great tune, a fantastically different arrangement - and the lyrics are weirdly brilliant.

The Beach Boys - Anna Lee, The Healer

Even Mike "The Great Satan" Love got down with it! Allow me to quote from the CD booklet:
The world of rock'n'roll can get very tense, and on this tune, the Beach Boys pay tribute to a masseuse who knew how to use her hands to make you feel a lot better
The main thing that strikes you when you listen to the album is how different it sounds to other Beach Boys releases - it's so mellow but recorded really simply and starkly, so that each sound is right up in your face. And The High Llamas got a good couple of albums out of it.

The Beach Boys - Transcendental Meditation

... but, really, what is going on here? The final track on their mellowest album, a song about the calming and refreshing act of meditation, features the most demented and energised arrangement.

Look - I love the Beach Boys, but they sound absolutely mental on this album. Maybe I'm hearing it through ears that know about well-documented drug-related psychosis, the Manson family and the never-ending Wilson-Love war, but I love it - it sounds so different to anything else they ever did.

Buy - Friends and 20/20 on CD
Visit - The Beach Boys
Visit - The Beach Boys on Wikipedia

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