April 10, 2007

bbly Thirty years ago this month, one of my favorite Beach Boys albums of all time, the 1977 album The Beach Boys Love You, was released. Considered the last “great” (although I would not exactly characterize it that way – perhaps “interesting” is a better word) Beach Boys album, The Beach Boys Love You is often considered to be founder and leader Brian Wilson‘s first solo album, as he wrote and performed most of the songs on the album, with minimal involvement by the other members of the group.

Featuring a coarse, no-frills sound with plenty of synthesized bass and Brian Wilson vocals, the album has never ceased to make me smile in its simplicity and sense of childlike joy. What makes this album so interesting to Beach Boys fans? The fact that there seems no middle ground as far as the feelings towards it – fans either love it or hate it. (Call it the Hillary Clinton of the Beach Boys recording catalog.)

Those who firmly place themselves on the side of the former, like this review by Robert Christgau, enjoy its wonderfully quirky nature:

Painfully crackpot and painfully sung, but also inspired, not least because it calls forth forbidden emotions. For a surrogate teenager to bare his growing pains so guilelessly was exciting, or at least charming; for an avowed adult to expose an almost childish naivete is embarrassing, but also cathartic; and for a rock and roll hero to compose a verbaly and musically irresistible paean to Johnny Carson is an act of shamanism pure and simple.

As with Wild Honey, the music sounds wrong in contradictory ways at first — both arty and cute, spare and smarmy — but on almost every cut it comes together soon enough; I am especially partial to the organ textures, and I find the absurd little astrology ditty, “Solar System,” impossible to shake. As for the words, well, they’re often pretty silly, but even (especially) when they’re designed to appeal to whatever Brian imagines to be the rock audience they reveal a lot more about the artist than most lyrics do. And this artist is a very interesting case.

Of course, there are those who are not quite as willing to sing it’s praises. The Wikipedia entry offers an alternative view:

Love You is the 1977 follow-up to The Beach Boys’ comeback album 15 Big Ones. Almost entirely written and performed by Brian Wilson, critics, then and now, are sharply divided on this project. Some feel that this, not its predecessor, is Wilson’s real return to form in the 1970s — albeit, a slightly bizarre one. Others feel it was suffered from poor lyrics, sour vocals and an uneven production.

A pop/rock album full of Brian’s recent songs, Love You has a unique and distinct sound, but the synth effects sound out-of-date to most contemporary ears. It was during the album’s recording that Wilson made his awkward Saturday Night Live appearance on November 27, introducing “Love Is a Woman” for the first time.

Many of the songs contained here have a very childish quality to them (“Roller Skating Child”, “Airplane”, and “Solar System” are examples of this) and, while attempting to be an up-beat album, it does conjure up a sense of melancholy when one considers that these naive songs are being created and performed by a man who had regressed to a childlike state.

Either way, whether you like it or not, there’s no arguing it was a heck of a lot more interesting a piece of work than any other Beach Boys album that was to follow. Unfortunately (and most likely because fans didn’t know what to make of it), the album didn’t do much upon its release:

Released just after announcing the band’s new record deal with CBS Records (now Sony Music), Reprise Records put little promotion into the album, and with the advent of disco and punk, The Beach Boys’ commercial steam had run out once again. Peaking at a disappointing fifty-three in the U.S. (and a marginally better twenty-eight in the UK), Love You was overlooked and soon forgotten.

No matter. In an era where few bands are ever willing to take risks and release product they themselves aren’t certain how their fans will receive it (Neil Young, Prince, and U2 are exceptions that come to mind), The Beach Boys Love You stands out as an interesting adventure in the aural saga that was The Beach Boys.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comments (0)
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