Monday, 6 August 2018
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966)
Released May 1966
Recorded in Hollywood
This was, of course the big one for The Beach Boys, coming only a few months after still putting out songs like "Amusement Parks USA" and "Barbara Ann", the troubled but manically inspired Brian Wilson managed, somehow, to cobble together his Spectoresque idea of manifold musicians playing as many instruments as they could get their hands on and, multiple takes later, they came up with this, his meisterwerk. It is far more of a Wilson solo album than a Beach Boys one, although the rest of the lads' fantastic voices and harmonies are integral to the album. Also present, instrumentally, are layered strings, keyboards, saxophones, bells, whistles, harpsichords, flutes, Hawaiian instruments, the Theremin electronic synthesiser, car horns.... Wilson has them all in there, like a huge wall of sound even greater than Spector's. Just how he conceived of this seemingly out of nowhere is barely comprehensible. This was a year before "Sgt. Pepper", remember. While this didn't directly inspire "Pepper", what it did was push the boundaries of popular music right over the edge. Anything was possible in the studio now.
On to the songs. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is actually a classic Beach Boys teen romance song that would have fitted quite nicely on previous albums. It has a superb keyboard intro though. It is simply a piece of pop perfection. I never, ever tire of it. The vocals, the harmonising, the refrain. Top quality. "You Still Believe In Me" was, I am sure, written by Wilson for his long-suffering wife, Marilyn, who saw him through what had been a difficult time for him, his fractured relationship with his father and, at times, bandmate Mike Love saw him close to a breakdown, along with his self-inflicted pressure trying to make what he wanted to be "the greatest album of all time". The song is classically-influenced in places and has a yearning vocal, and a honking car horn at the end, for some reason! "That's Not Me" has Wilson again looking into himself, talking about leaving "for the city" over some immaculate, melodic backing. This is a slow growing, catchy song that sticks with you after a while. "Don't Talk" is actually a Beatles-ish song, with "Pepper"-style drum backing in places, before The Beatles went there. George Martin must have been influenced by this, he really must.
"I'm Waiting For The Day" is another typical Beach Boys slow ballad but, as with the others, it is the massive orchestrated backing that makes it different to something like "Surfer Girl", for example. On this album, Wilson takes the group's old, often barber-shop type vocals and backs them with the most experimental, inventive music, turning it into something really quite remarkable. It was almost symphonic in places. "Let's Go Away For A While" is a jazzy, cacophony of an instrumental. This really was ground-breaking stuff. Also notable is the shift from all songs being teenage love songs to many being earnest, philosophical, self-analytical numbers.
The uplifting, singalong "Sloop John B" was a last minute addition. No matter. Its great. Always has been. Some feel it sits incongruously. Not Me. I love it being there. Then comes Paul McCartney's favourite song of all time, the sublime "God Only Knows". Is there a more perfect love song? I doubt it. "I Know There's An Answer" sees Wilson getting cynical and questioning about human behaviour over a lively backing that has hints of "Then I Kissed Her" about it. "Here Today" is another typical Beach Boys song given the big treatment, which lifts it from being an ordinary song into something more interesting. Some of the album's songs would just have been regular slow numbers on previous numbers. On here the inventive backing turns them into something altogether different.
"I Just Wasn't Made For These Days" is an intense, self-analysing piece from Wilson. The words are actually very sad and you realise what a miserable time he was going through, while creating this wonderful piece of work. "Pet Sounds" is actually an intriguing instrumental, saxophone-enhanced, but all sorts of other sounds in there. "Caroline, No" is a straight-up lovely song. No need for the kitchen sink in it, just a bit of addictive percussion and a few Ringo Starr drums before he started playing them like that.
What was a shame was that after this creative hit, we had the absolute nadir of the appalling, puerile and idiotic indulgence that was "Smiley Smile". From the sublime to the ridiculous indeed. It would never get this good again for Brian Wilson, ever.
- August 06, 2018