Saturday, September 22, 2007

Review #21: Carl And The Passions "So Tough"

Arguably, one of the strangest releases of any major rock artist is The Beach Boys’ Carl And The Passions-“So Tough”. Some might say it could be Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait or some other awful album by a major artist. Most people might say that just because they haven’t heard of “So Tough”. While Self Portrait was publically panned and still sold well, “So Tough” was neither. In fact virtually no one, outside the small contingency of us die-hard Beach Boy fans, has heard or knows what “So Tough” is.
Now, though, the album is finally getting some well deserved attention. Capitol included “All This Is That” on its latest
The Warmth of the Sun compilation, hopefully causing some people to try to find the album. “All This Is That” is a magnificent song, but how good is the rest of the album? Read on!

You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone, with a soft underlining keyboard intro, opens the album. The song features Carl Wilson’s roughest vocals, which is surprising. Although both his older brothers, Brian and Dennis, had developed sandpaper vocals, Carl had mostly retained his soft, sweet voice, heard so prominently on cuts like “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations”. His decision to follow his brothers is unique, but fits the song well. It has the longest title of any Beach Boy song and also has some of the strangest instrumentation, bested only by the Theremin on “Good Vibrations”. The instrumental break features a banjo, of all things, played over the mostly basic guitars, drums, bass and keyboards that dominate the rest of the track.
After Surf’s Up, Bruce Johnston left the Beach Boys until 1978 (during that period, he would famously write “I Write The Songs”). Carl decided to welcome Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, two South African musicians into the fold. For “So Tough”, the Chaplin/Fataar team would contribute two songs, the first being Here She Comes. The song bears little resemblance to anything The Beach Boys had done before. It’s more of a jazz/country rock song, with Fataar’s drumming taking more prominence than Chaplin’s smooth, soulful vocal.
In 1968, The Boys, like The Beatles, came under the influence of Transcendental Meditation and the spiritualness of the whole idea. Mike Love was the spiritual leader, and while George Harrison’s musical talents lead us to great songs like “Long, Long, Long” and “The Inner Light”, Love’s talents gave us He Come Down. Written with Carl and Al, the song isn’t that awful, but fault can be found all over. It fails to be uplifting in any way, with lyrics merely revolving around a “He said this…He said that” theme. However, the harmonies, with Chaplin’s added voice, are a standout part.
Side One closes with Marcella. As the second, and final, song Brian contributed to (he also contributed to “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone”), is the most “Beach Boy” sounding song on the LP, but the subject itself is one that the Boys usually didn’t sing about: prostitution. The song, which is one of my favorite tunes from the 1970-’73 era, is the only other tune found on compilations. It was included on Ten Years Of Harmony and Best Of The Beach Boys Volume 3: The Brother Years.
The second Fataar/Chaplin song on the album, Hold On Dear Brother, opens the second side. The song features another drained vocal from Chaplin. He does not show his vocal prowess here and it’s nothing like the powerful vocal on “Sail On, Sailor”. It has some incredible piano parts, as most of the song is piano-based.
Dennis and Daryl Dragon’s Make It Good is a short poem reading. I say that, because Dennis more or less is reading and not singing. The track only clocks in at 2:34, but it has a nice arrangement that works well.
All This Is That is another highlight, and as I mentioned, was used by Capitol for The Warmth Of The Sun compilation. The track is much like a better version of “He Come Down”, with an absolutely breathtaking vocal performance by both Mike and Carl. Although you might say John Lennon said “Jai Guru Deva” better than Carl does on the fade-out in this song, I say you’re wrong. Carl’s voice is so…so…angelic. I think this moment, only bested by “God Only Knows”, is Carl’s greatest moment. I really, really do.
To close the album, Dennis is chosen to give the last bow, with another composition with Dragon, Cuddle Up. The song, which lasts for 5:42, is much better than its shorter cousin “Make It Good”. The track has a choral feel to it, as the Boys harmonies act as Dennis’s backing group, accenting Dennis’s lyrics. As a closing track, it definitely works, but I wouldn’t put it in the middle of the album.
Excluding 1970’s Sunflower, every album from 1970-’73 did not feature the Boys on the cover. However, they chose some really incredible paintings and photographs for these covers. Surf’s Up has the breathtaking painting of the famous Indian and horse statue and Holland’s cover features an odd shot of a downtown area in the Netherlands. “So Tough” has a less dramatic cover, but still nice, nonetheless. It shows the side of a classic car that the Boys could have sung about in 1963. Reflecting in the window is a beach and, on the door, sits the album’s title in fancy script. The original cover did not feature the Boys’ name anywhere, giving the impression that it might be an album made by some new band called Carl and the Passions. The back features a few famous pictures of the Boys and their new South African members that are cut up to make it seem they are all there together, when, in fact, all the pictures where from various shots.
Initially, the LP was packed with a “bonus” second disc in the U.S. That bonus disc was, of all things, Pet Sounds. Now, it might seem like an incredible idea. Pair a new Beach Boys album with their classic LP that had been out of print for more than a few years by 1972. However, it doesn’t really work. You see, the Beach Boys, at this point, were moving so far away from their legacy. They didn’t want to embrace it. Yet, Warner Brothers (who they were with at the time) forced them to do just that.
On the other hand, you can’t blame Warner for their decision. They knew that an eight-track album that had no hit single and, especially, hardly any contributions from Brian (I believe the original deal with Warner was that Brian would work on at least 70% of all their albums, but that fell by the waist side) just would not sell. Although they could have rejected the album (which they did freely for Sunflower several times and then would do the same for Holland), they decided to make use of their 1966-1969 Capitol catalogue (which they bought). They believed that it would sell if it was promoted as a package that had “ALL-NEW!” and “THE GREATEST ALBUM EVER!” it would sell. Well, it didn’t and the set only reached #50. In England and abroad, where the album did no better, “So Tough” was issued by itself.
Currently, the album is available in a two-disc bundle with Holland and is still in print, readily available on (Thus, it means that the album has never been available in the United States by itself.)
In conclusion, this album is really an odd mix, but it has some incredible songs on it. The version packed with Holland is an incredible value, and if you are a real music fan, you either already have it or are trying to get it. It is 100% worth it.

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