By Chris Moore:
RATING: 4.5 / 5 stars
Never before has such an excellent album been so universally scorned.
From the reviewers on down to the liner notes of the CD itself, every writer who has taken pen to paper in the name of The Beach Boys — perhaps better known to fans as “1985” — has had much in the way of criticism and, at times, outright derision for what ended up being their last full-length studio album of predominantly original material.
Take it as another subtle disapproval when only one track from this year was included on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys box set.
One track out of well over one hundred tracks.
The truth is that The Beach Boys sounds a bit dated, clearly a product of the eighties and the decade long flirtation with digital and synthesized sounds. Andrew Doe, writer of both the liner notes for the album and Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys: The Complete Guide to their Music, claims that the decision to experiment with this technology “removed any sense of immediacy from the proceedings.”
He also has negative commentary to share for just about every track that I like.
As Doe is one of the few writers to take the time — or, certainly, to be paid — to review these tracks, it may be useful to revisit his sentiments. In his mind, the Mike Love/Terry Melcher-penned “Getcha Back,” one of the true gems of this period, “has a curiously unfinished feel about it.” Bruce Johnston’s heartfelt performance on “She Believes in Love Again” is “(unusually) less than silky smooth.” Brian Wilson’s admittedly simple but — as the Laptop Sessions have proven — beautiful song “I’m So Lonely” is simply “in no way objectionable.” “Passing Friend,” the stronger of the two covers here, is described as “a second-string Culture Club discard [that] really isn’t appropriate, nor up to par.” (Whereas the other cover, “I Do Love You,” is “good,” even if it’s “not the Beach Boys.”)
To be fair, “Where I Belong” gets the attention it deserves, although Doe overstates it a bit as “the undoubted album highlight.” The other track that he endorses is “California Calling,” a perfectly enjoyable track that is nostalgic of classic early Beach Boys. Predictably, Doe again overstates, writing “why this wasn’t a single is an eternal mystery.”
Herein lies the rub: that frustrating ever-present perception of the classic early Beach Boys sound.
For nearly two decades by this point, the Beach Boys had been suffering from commercial and critical expectations. Anyone could understand why Smiley Smile fell disappointingly flat, but strong later releases — like the placid but endearing Friends and the masterpiece Sunflower — stalled in the triple digits on the charts.
Is it a coincidence that an album on which the Beach Boys experiment with new technology and stretch out beyond some of their more typical arrangements is so widely disdained?
I think not.
Consider for even a moment the runaway success of their subsequent album (more like an EP) Still Cruisin’ based on the merits of the crowd-pleasing “Kokomo” and in spite of the downright embarrassing “Wipe Out.”
When this band sings within the ranges of their image (i.e. anything related to summer, the beach, waves, sun, etc.), they are met with far more success than when they stretch out beyond the expected.
As for me, I can see beyond the eighties textures. I don’t feel the compulsive need to value this music primarily in comparison to the other albums in the Beach Boys catalog; even if I did, it would hold up as one of the pillars, particularly post-Holland. And I applaud the Beach Boys for rebounding from a tumultuous series of years that saw Carl temporarily quitting the band, Brian falling under the influence of Dr. Landy, and Dennis passing away, due to drowning.
Despite all the tension and tragedy, The Beach Boys is the combined effort of five adults still able to perform with positive energy, adding the element of uplift to nearly every track. This album is host to what have become lost Beach Boys tracks, including excellent little numbers like “It’s Gettin’ Late,” the catchy “Crack at Your Love,” and the electric, rockin’ “Maybe I Don’t Know.” And, as much as I like Keepin’ the Summer Alive (1980) for a spin or maybe two, this is the album I put on repeat for days at a time to kick off or to recharge my summer spirit each year.
Few may agree with me, but that’s okay. The Beach Boys truly is the under-appreciated pinnacle of the Beach Boys final full decade as a band. Not since Holland had they produced such a strong album, and they would sadly never match it again.
At this point, I’ve written all that can be communicated, and I’ll have to agree to disagree with the masses, tolerating “Kokomo” and loving The Beach Boys (1985).