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Pacific Ocean Blue
Dennis Wilson

Caribou PZ 34354
Released: August 1977
Chart Peak: #96
Weeks Charted: 8

Dennis WilsonAlthough Dennis Wilson never wrote many of the Beach Boys' songs, his few compositions over the years have been consistently memorable. Prior to his solo debut (the first by any of the original Beach Boys), he was most noticeable on Sunflower, where he just about stole the show with such standouts as "Forever," "Slip On Through" and "Get to Know the Woman." Still, Sunflower came out seven years ago, leaving one with guarded feelings about what a Dennis Wilson solo album would sound like. The news, as delivered by Pacific Ocean Blue, is more than just good. This is a truly wonderful and touching album.

Wilson's style, both in terms of singing and songwriting, is unique. His voice somehow manages to be both rough and fragile at the same time, making his vocals strangely powerful and moving. As a songwriter, his strong suit is the ballad, and though the tunes are often little more than fragments, they have a way of taking hold of your emotions. "Farewell My Friend" and "Thoughts of You" demonstrate the intensity of Wilson's songs, although both avoid the verse/chorus/bridge structure of most pop songs. And even on such uptempo numbers as the title track and "Friday Night," there's a sensitivity and vulnerability that is almost irresistible.

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue
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To his credit, Wilson did not gather a carload of familiar names to make it through this project -- none of the other original Beach Boys appears here. Nor did he attempt to mimic the Beach Boys' sound. Yes, there are certain Beach Boy touches here and there, especially in the complex vocal arrangements: "Thoughts of You" has a passage that seems right out of Surf's Up, and "You and I" could easily have been part of Friends. But on the whole, Pacific Ocean Blue is a distinctly personal statement and reveals Dennis Wilson to be a talented and gifted performer in his own right.

- Billy Altman, Rolling Stone, 10/20/77.

Bonus Reviews!

Dennis Wilson, like the rest of the Beach Boys, has learned an awful lot about the potential of the studio from his big brother Brian. And, since Brian probably knows more about recording studios than anyone else in Christendom, it's not surprising that Dennis' debut solo project should be so stunningly put together. The sound of it is as California-lush as anything the Boys have come up with in the Seventies, with ethereal vocal choirs, relentlessly layered instrumentation, and snippets of melodies that suggest strange, primitive chants. Dennis has matured into quite a convincing r-&-b singer, and his hoarse, husky vocals here are almost irresistibly attractive. What he lacks, however, is a real point of view. For all the (apparently sincere) world-weariness of some of the lyrics, especially "What's Wrong" and "Friday Night," which suggest the kind of self-doubt that we hardly expect from an ambassador of the West Coast Good Life. Dennis just isn't -- yet -- able to focus on anything really compelling. Nor does he match his brother's flair for turing personal anguish into moving, even if naive, universal statements. For an overreacher, though, he makes some really lovely noises. Give this a B-plus and wait for a sequel.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 1/78.

This elaborately produced album demonstrates many of the qualities of the Beach Boys' music, especially the vocal harmonies, but also demonstrates individual vision. It's a shame there wasn't more after this. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Dennis Wilson was the The Beach Boys' resident drummer, stud, actor, Charles Manson acolyte, and the first to die (drowning after a vodka binge). He also released the only solo album of real note by any Beach Boy.

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Recorded over seven years, Pacific Ocean Blue offers up a glimpse of L.A. in the Seventies, when being a coke-fueled rock star was truly to live like a god. Reviews of the album were positive and while not a hit -- there are no radio-friendly singles on Pacific Ocean Blue -- it has been long admired. Its multitracked voices, synth washes, bruised melodies, undercurrent of despair, and stoned, late-night ambience make it stand up better today than any Beach Boys album since Surf's Up.

The piano motifs and massed voice of stunning opener "River Song" create an epic, gospel-like quality. "Moonshine" is built over a heavy percussion rhythm and offers up rich-white-guy California blues. "Thoughts Of You" is Dennis at his most wistfully reflective; "Time" is complemented by a gorgeously blue trumpet line that recalls Chet Baker, before morphing into a rocker. The title track is a great nature song with Dennis' voice at its most grizzled, while "Farewell My Friend" is an elegiac goodbye. Wilson was addicted to cocaine and alcohol and much of Pacific Ocean Blue has a weary, zonked flavor to it, as if he was digging through his messy psyche to truly express the real Dennis.

Gratified by the album's positive response, he set about recording a follow-up to be called Bambu but his wild lifestyle meant it was never to be completed.

- Garth Cartwright, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

The most handsome Beach Boy was also, in 1977, the most daring. Dennis Wilson's only official solo album was the first by any member of the group, and is still the best: 12 songs of gripping need and tortured beauty, sung in a craggy, soulful voice by a surfer dreamboat for whom the California dream was real, but not enough. Pacific Ocean Blue is Dennis' version of his brother Brian's triumph, Pet Sounds -- an intensely personal masterpiece -- while the session material from Dennis' planned second album, Bambu, is his version of Brian's SMiLE: a promise aborted and, with his death in 1983, forever unfulfilled.

- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 1/8/09.

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