The Beach Boys Love You
The Beach Boys
Released: April 1977
Chart Peak: #53
Weeks Charted: 7
Brian Wilson's appearance last fall on Saturday Night Live was just about the last straw in the sequence of events surrounding his public reemergence. For someone who cared, it was revolting to watch him sit at the piano in a sandbox, singing "Good Vibrations" by himself, his voice barely able to carry a melody. Worse, he seemed oblivious to how degrading the scene was.
But The Beach Boys Love You is a truly wonderful album, and it is Brian's show from beginning to end. He wrote 11 of the 14 songs and coauthored the others. In light of last year's events -- 15 Big Ones is easily the worst album in the Beach Boys' long history -- "Let's Put Our Hearts Together," a duet between Brian and wife Marilyn, and "Love Is a Woman," with Brian's achingly strained vocal, should never have been released -- but mostly this alum presents a Brian Wilson who is again comfortable in the recording studio, functioning at a level not too far removed from his better days.
As usual, the strengths are musical, the weaknesses lyrical. Wilson's lyrics have always reached clumsily for rhymes and images, and the content has often been silly and childlike. But the fact that he's not trying to be either profound or cut redeems him -- you wince, but you also smile. As often as not, it is the very simplicity and warmth of spirit in the words teamed with the very complex and well thought out arrangements that win you over.
Musically, though, it's an arresting tour de force. The song opens with a piano playing a blues line with chain-gang overtones. Then the organ and synthesizer move in, accompanied by Dennis Wilson's spare snare drum, and near the end, a brief, taut organ interlude of short chords is accented by three short snare shots. It's simply masterful, in the unassuming way of Smiley Smile and Friends.
The Beach Boys Love You is reminiscent of many other Beach Boys albums. Like the best of them, it's flawed but enjoyable. Brian Wilson still isn't singing as well as he used to, but his playing and composing talents have certainly returned from wherever they've been the past few years. Considering what he's been through, it's some accomplishment. Next time, Brian, let's get together and do it again. Okay?
- Billy Altman, Rolling Stone, 5-5-77.
If you review records professionally (or even if you just listen to a lot of records), you eventually reach a point where it becomes difficult to separate your reactions to an artist's work from what you know, or think you know, of his personality as it is conveyed by reporting or hype in the various media -- and your reactions to that.
I adore the Beach Boys, so just like any other fan I've devoured every word about them I could get my hands on over the years. And, what with the kind of press the Boys have been getting lately -- the stories about Brian Wilson's... er... health problems are only slightly less ubiquitous than those about Cher's affairs or Keith Richards' drug busts -- I wonder whether the reactions I have to this new album are the result of my own projections. Does it sound weird to me because I'm afraid Brian is? Would it sound weird if none of those press items had ever appeared? I haven't quite gotten it worked out to my satisfaction.
That bit of confessional background out of the way, I can tell you a few concrete things about The Beach Boys Love You. First of all, both musically and thematically it's a kind of back-to-the-roots record for them. The production is generally sparse, with very few of those ethereal vocal choirs that characterized most of their Seventies work, and by and large the subject matter of the songs is the same middle-American teenage stuff -- cars, girls, cruising, watching TV -- that dominated their earliest records. The sound of it recalls Wild Honey in its primitiveness and spontaneity, which is good, and some of the songs (especially "Roller Skating Child") are just delightful, lyrically dumb but melodically irresistible despite the signs of strain Brian's voice is showing. But take a cut like "Johnny Carson." The lyrics make about as much sense as something by the Ramones, and for the life of me I can't tell if it is just another example of the half-baked humor the Boys have been peddling for ages or the work of somebody who hasn't got all his marbles. I'll give this one a conditional B-plus and wait a few months to see how it sinks in.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 7/77.
The second Beach Boys album since Brian Wilson's return to musical creativity is something of a return to square one, in the most positive sense of the phrase. Without any overt surfing or auto racing songs, this LP brings back the direct, almost childlike naturalness of the quintet in its classic early period before it tried to get as significant and meaningful as all of the other major groups passing through the tail-end of psychedelic rock. The album provides no less than 14 short, cheerful songs of bouncy love or other good experiences, such as watching the host of the "Tonight Show" do his thing or playing with a baby. The basic rhythm tracks tend towards chugging keyboard/guitar figures that are as irresistible as they are unpretentious. The lyrics may not win any prizes for cleverness or profundity but the chirpy melodies and angelic vocal harmonies make their own in-depth statements. Welcome back, Brian.
- Billboard, 1977.
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. A
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The Beach Boys hailed the return of Brian Wilson with their 1976 album 15 Big Ones, but it was on this follow-up, produced by Wilson, who also wrote almost all of it as well, that he was heard in all his demented glory, singing with childlike wonder about Johnny Carson, among other topics. Strange, but fascinating, especially for longtime Wilson watchers. * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The Beach Boys Love You is a low-key, congenial partial return-to-earth from Brian Wilson, isolated in the general dreck of the other albums that surround it. * * * *
- Leland Rucker, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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