The Beach Boys - Carl and the Passions "So Tough" (Capitol, 2000)
The Beach Boys - He Come Down
The Beach Boys - Marcella
The Beach Boys - Cuddle Up
The Beach Boys - Here She Comes
I have returned. Hallelujah, praise the Lord known on this feeble planet as Simon, the Spoilt Victorian Brat himself who has been a huge help in getting me back on track despite the frequent setbacks of the week. The Last Night An Mp3... boys deserve a mention too for just being righteous sons of bitches. Thanks for all the feedback and altruism, it is greatly appreciated.
So how have I chosen to rise from my horrific hibernation? Why with one of the most maligned albums ejected from the bloated magnificence that are those aryan surfer chiles ('cept Mike Love, bald bastard that he be), the Beach Boys. Did you expect anything less? And remember I've had a week's worth of muse juices built up so this one will probably be long and messy like my best works.
In 1972, post-Van Dyke Parks and "Student Demonstration Time", the Beach Boys cut an 8 track album taking its name from a previous incarnation of the group (Carl Wilson, geddit?) and adding two new members in the South African pairing of bassist Blondie Chaplin (now camping it up with the Stones' live act) and drummer Ricky Fataar (now session musician who I will love forever not only for his Beach Boys work but also his work on Boz Scaggs' 'Some Change', a permanent not-so-guilty pleasure of mine), both members of the Brother Records group, The Flame. Now let's get this straight. I own a dozen Beach Boys albums - I've listened to about half of 'Pet Sounds' once whilst 'So Tough' has probably been rotating happily on various mediums well over a hundred times. I love it with all my heart as Dr Frankenstein loved his hideous creation. It may be flawed but it has such strong character raised from its collective parts of soft rhythms, nonsenical preachings of the Maharishi, a song based on the endless repetition of a single phrase, a song about a massuese, and Daryl "The Captain and Tennille" Dragon's orchestral arrangements that are so overwrought that they almost reach Wagnerian bombast and ecstasy. To call it a mixed bag is a gross understatement but, like 'Todd' which I covered a few weeks ago, you just have to give it a try.
If I could every single song would be put up for your download but that would defeat the point so before I go on I must plead that if you find anything at all meritous in any of the songs that I offer to you then go and buy the 'So Tough/Holland' twofer. It's a fiver at HMV and relatively cheap at any internet seller mainly because most people are morons and don't value the Fataar/Chaplin years preferring to fellate Brian. Carl was a superior vocalist to Brian and, along with Dennis, a better lyricist. They deserve their dues something which is duelly provided by all of the Beach Boys' superb post-'Pet Sounds' to 'Beach Boys in Concert' output. Brian coming back for '15 Big Ones' and '... Love You' destroyed the band but no one seems to realise this and will infuriate with their blinkered fan boy antics. As that king of provoker of the pub argument, Martin Strong and his "Great" Rock Discography puts it, "After [Brian's rejoining as a full member of the band], the Beach Boys abandoned even the slightest attempt to push their own musical boundaries. Instead relying upon tired retreads of their earlier sound". The Beach Boys were like that enigma Peter Sellers, they were a chameleon; an empty shell that eventually filled beyond its capacity that like a blocked toilet resulted in the everything and everyone getting covered in old shit.
That eventual collapse isn't present here though even in a minor form. It's contained sprawl is fascinating with the selected tracks showing the diversity of musical approaches involved; there's a Traffic/Doobie Brothers rocker penned by the new members Chaplin and Fataar, "Here She Comes", my favourite, at the moment); a heavily orchestrated Dennis song that is the cornerstone in his persona as the damaged romantic poet, "Cuddle Up"; the only Brian track that is the most blatantly commercial reverting back to the harmonies of old albeit far less pristine, "Marcella"; and the opening salvo that is so good that St Etienne even named an album after it despite its completely nonsensical title, "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone". The rest is equally marvellous including the Mike Love mystical clap trap of "He Come Down" with its white frat boy gospel chorus fronted by the ever wonderful Carl and the unbelievable bridge with Carl's emotive wordless sighs leading into handclaps that die off only to be slowly resurrected through the cure of accapella. Actually, I've decided that "He Come Down" is truely brilliant so "Mess fo Help..." has been demoted. Sarah Cracknell will be crying into her Earl Grey tea tonight that's for sure (No I won't change the previous paragraph, it interrupts my stream of consciousness style).
One down, three to go. We come to 'Marcella', the supposed standout track which I in fact feel is one of the weaker efforts only due to the strength of its opposition. Interestingly, I recently read in a magazine letters page, possibly the Word with the Boss on the cover, that the particular reader believed that Robbie Robertson must have produced the album due to the Beach Boys' abandonment of their exceptional integrated harmonies toward a more segmented dirty form of doo wop that The Band found so compelling. It's an interesting point and illustrates how much of an ugly duckling this album represents to those who worship the perfect pop vision of Phil Spector and Brian. As I've said before on this blog, I like it a little more human than that with pop perfection a commodity that I grow easily tired of if acheived by conventional means. For example, Burt Bacarach doesn't make me go gooey at the knees normally but when he made that maverick and carrier of the torch of musical chameleon, Elvis Costello, his deputy for 'Painted of Memory' I lapped it up. It's like taking the Mona Lisa and spraying a big "Fuck You" on it. Exhilirating with its deep, filthy "bom boms" and the shaking of bells at the end that sound perversely like they should be on a Chirstmas single.
"Her She Comes" is very similar to the groove of later 60s R&B outfits like Traffic and the 70s AOR boogie of Little Feat and the Doobies. At once, highly listenable but also complex and inventive. The opening salvo almost mirrors 'John Barleycorn is Dead's "Glad" before calming down toward a simple rhythm embellished by Fataar's excellent playing with its clean jazz influences. For the first two minutes or so, it could be described as quite bland but then we get to the chatning of "Rolling down the road" and it just takes off like a bird to flight. The harmonies are crisp and deliciously to the point before a return to the intro motif and the unleashing of Carl's superb guitar work. Toto, I don't think we're in the territory of "Sweet Little Sixteen" knockoffs any more. The only thing that I find frustrating about it (excepting the admittedly aged lyrics) is that it seems to be really getting into a fantastic groove and just as it fades out you can here the rhythm section absolutely tearing the crap out the surrounding landscape but then it finishes. I mean this album is famous for being so short on material that it had to steal two songs from Dennis' touted solo effort with Daryl Dragon. Why not turn "Here She Comes" into the musical beast that it so clearly aches to be? Am I the only one who thinks this? Probably.
The Dennis tune "Cuddle Up", and it's companion piece "Make It Good", are rightly highlighted by Scott McCaughney in this release's superb liner notes (their assessment of 'Holland's "Only With You' as not lighting up enough weddings is so apt that it always enters my head whenever that song comes on) as severely overlooked. For a start, "Cuddle Up" is so frank and cutting in its measured choice of words that it borders on the perverse. "To wake to find/that we're still one", I mean think about it. Dennis doesn't have the pipes that the song deserves but rather gives it a performance from the Jimmy Webb school of vocals. Just put everything you have into it despite the flaws and give some evidence for these words of love; something that will never ever happen with many perfect vocalists like Michael Buble and which shows exactly why they sound so hollow in sentiment and subesequently so grating. One utterance of "Honey/Honey/I'm in love" by the man on this record is so powerful to me that I'm actually tearful and have to take a tissue break. It is the definitive album closer and although the improvisation outro to "Here She Comes" may have suffered for this song's inclusion I wouldn't swap it for all the tea, clothes, and Game Boys in China. Nor would I swap this album. I guess I'm just crazy like that.
PS The brilliant potrait of Dennis Wilson is by Paul Willoughby and can be found along with other thrilling work at the Soma Gallery website. Paul, if you somehow find this site, my apologies for not asking you but I just had to have it.
Buy - So Tough/Holland