Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Different Things

As much as I love the Beach Boys - particularly the post-Smiley Smile - I'm also amused by how differently those albums sound to fans than they sound to me. Writers admire the albums' beauty; I'm fascinated by the drama you can hear as Carl and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine struggle to define themselves after the beach and after Brian's definitive statements and breakdown. There are moments of remarkable beauty and startling artistic adventure - much of Sunflower, much of Surf's Up, parts of Friends, much of 20/20, and half of The Beach Boys Love You - and there are moments that seem desperate to reclaim the past - most of Carl and the Passions.

Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue has recently been re-released, and here too, that gulf seems to exist. Again, the liner notes writer focuses on the beauty of the songs and particularly the chords Dennis formed on piano. Those chords frame songs that sound to me like a man in existential pain. They're spent, and even the putative uptempo tracks seem like forced joviality. As such, they're compelling, and his raw voice is as compelling in its own way as Carl's, even if it's a far raspier and fragile instrument. There's little joy on the 1978 album, admittedly, but there's also a individual sensibility behind it that's compelling in its sadness.

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