Good Music We Can Know

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tonight's Explorers Room: Columnated Ruins Domino – Beach Boys in the Wasteland of Manhood (post-Pet Sounds to Surf's Up)

Tonight on Explorers Room: a return to the bewildering ouvre of the one and only Beach Boys.  The last Boys-themed show brought us right up to the cusp of Pet Sounds, and tonight we'll pick up right where Pet Sounds ends, in the mystic temples of Smile (lying there in ruins, or in a half-finished state, depending on your perspective).  From there we'll soldier on through the late 60's albums, ending with 1971's Surf's Up (an album which marks the end of an era, in my opinion), paying special attention to: 
           a) the ways in which Smile, having been abandoned (thus to never be the flabbergasting, singular masterpiece it of course should have been), manages to bubble up all throughout, stretched out across some five or so inconsistent and often-wonderful lo-fi experimental records, and 
          b) the ways in which the disillusionment/withdrawal of Brian Wilson led to a more democratic, desperate Beach Boys, torn between a desire to compete commercially and of course artistically with other 60's musical acts; and to compete, or at least reasonably rise to the level of, the level of ambitious fine-art excellence established by Brian Wilson's auteurist work on Pet Sounds and Smile (and the hyperbolic expectations/bitter disappointment emanating from the latter).  Particularly the top-notch, often tremendous, efforts of Dennis and Carl.
The tragedy of Smile's demise has led to decades of what-could-have-beens when it comes to the Beach Boys.  This has overshadowed all the work they've done since.  But I like, love a lot of that work, and now, with the benefit of not only time but also the pretty superb Smile Sessions reconstruction of Smile (I have little love for 2004's Brian Wilson Presents Smile, but that exists too), we can ease up on alternate-universe wishful thinking and spend a little time appreciating what actually is there: a hearty stretch of weird experimentation, tossed-off moments of little genius, pop pandering which must have been disappointing at the time but is gorgeous nonetheless, decent offerings from Love-Johnston-Jardine made great by a great group, and grand statements of maturity and sophistication from the younger Wilsons.  


Brian Chidester said...

Gotta give it till "Holland," as Jack Rieley said it was Carl's attempt at doing something like "Smile." Plus Brian works with Van Dyke Parks again on "Sail on, Sailor," and you get the "Fairy Tale" bonus 45, which is constructed in the modular style BW invented with "Smile."

Flash Strap said...

I agree that Holland is a fascinating and valiant effort, but I think of it as a good album that opens a pretty weak period, rather than the last album of a great period. "Sail on, Sailor,""Funky Pretty" and "The Trader"(the latter having anti-imperialist themes that I really appreciate) are pretty strong stuff, "California Saga" is at least really weird, and "Mount Vernon and Fairway" has some greatness in it, (if Rieley's narration weren't so godawful and if it had been better supported by the band and finished the way it was conceived).

I actually really wanted to fit a lot of that material, as well as Dennis' stuff on the later albums, but had to cut a lot for time. It ended up feeling like "Surf's Up" really was a grand bookend, the last part of Smile to be released, the end of a chapter.