Sunday, December 09, 2007

Review #25: L.A. (Light Album)

By 1979, The Beach Boys creative powers were in a free-fall. After the utter weirdness of The Beach Boys Love You and the utter horror of M.I.U. Album, it seemed like The Beach Boys had nothing left. This wasn’t entirely true, as Brian constantly made some interesting music on the side by himself. Of course, that didn’t matter, because none of it was released.
So, the question on The Boys minds, in 1979, had to have been “How do we follow up with the unimaginable badness of our last album?” Well, the answer seemed to come in guise of Bruce Johnston. As I mentioned during my review of
“So Tough”, Johnston went on a long sabbatical during the mid-seventies because his ballads were obviously not fitting on what Jack Reiley was having The Boys do. (It also seemed that Dennis was mighty good at handling the ballad duties during this time with things like “Make It Good”, “Cuddle Up” and “Only With You”.)
Now, Bruce’s idea for the next album was that he would make The Boys ‘relevant’. In 1971, this meant having them go through an incredible stage of longer, harder rock songs with slight environmental tones. In 1979, though, it meant having to go into disco (despite the fact that disco itself was pretty irrelevant by this time as the American populace finally turned its light bulb on)! So the preview single of the album that is going to be discussed today, was an edited form of Johnston’s new remix of “Here Comes the Night”, a simple, innocent R & B number on 1967’s
Wild Honey. The single actually charted and reached #44!
Then, today’s album of discussion
L.A. (Light Album) was issued to the public. Thankfully, (though unfortunately unbeknownst to the record buyers of 1979) the album is not a disco record at all. It just has that one disco track, “Here Comes The Night”, on it. So, without delay, here goes the review on The Boys’ 1979 release!
The album kicks off with Good Timin’. The song was the second single from the album and actually charted higher than “Here Comes The Night” at #40. “Good Timin’” is constantly used on all the Boys’ compilations, with good reason. It is easily their best post-Holland song. Carl does a mind blowing vocal job and the backing vocals are magnificent. Brian collaborated on Carl with this one and the two created a great song. My only issue with it is that I wish it would have been slightly longer. The track lasts only 2:12, and by 1:50, the song begins to fade off. Still, the track should be noteworthy for not being a ‘nostalgic’ track, like “Goin’ On”, “Getcha Back” or “Kokomo”. “Good Timin’”’s sound is not reminiscent to the early Beach Boys sound, which makes it rather unique compared to other latter-day hits like I mentioned.
Next is Al’s Lady Linda, a tribute to his wife at the time. It opens with a long harpsichord-style intro and the rest of the song has a sort of strange feel to it. You could see Al singing this on a stage by himself trying (and failing, likely due to his stature) to woo all the girls (which you won’t do, especially singing a song about your wife) as the Boys stand back singing “Wontcha lie lady, wontcha stay lady?” It’s a good song, but I think it might’ve fit better on M.I.U. because of its’ Al-heavy influences and the fact that it was co-written with Ron Altbach, who co-produced that album with Al (plus, these real lackluster lyrics). Surprisingly, this somehow went on to become a huge hit in Europe.
The light mood continues with the first of two Carl ballads, with Full Sail. Although Carl’s vocals are absolutely amazing, I really love the group harmonies on the bridge. The lyrics too, written by Carl with Geoffrey Cushing-Murray, are pretty good too. I like the whole idea of “…putting the childhood dream to the test…” and most of the other relatively simple lyrics work well.
Angel Come Home is the first of Dennis’s large load of songs on the album. Although probably a very forgettable number, it does feature the nice, rough Dennis vocals that, by 1979, were expected. The lyrics are probably the most interesting on the album, with a story about a man who is so lost without his ‘Angel’. It’s another C. Wilson/G. Cushing-Murray number.
Next is another Dennis track, titled Love Surrounds Me. Originally intended for his second solo album, Bamboo, the production on it is incredible. I love the ending bit where the song takes an entirely different turn to the fade.
Next is Mike’s only real contribution, Sumahama. Now, if you can get beyond the unimaginable cheesiness of the intro and having to hear Mike sing in Japanese, you might find that the song isn’t half-bad. There’s a nice bass line that resonates through the song, although it does get lost in the back through the second half of the song. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, except that you could write how awful they are.
Side Two opens with the disco ten-minute extravaganza, Here Comes The Night. When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be a real excruciating listen, but surprisingly, I found it listenable. I mean, I never even skip it whenever I listen to this album. Yeah, it definitely would have been better if Bruce put some unreleased Brian material here, instead of a disco version of a nearly twelve year old song (at the time, of course) here. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable take on the song, although, I must admit, I don’t quite get the point of making the Boys sound like robots (i.e.: the first chorus) and the monkey noises toward the middle to end.
Dennis’s last song on the album, and unfortunately Dennis’s last contribution to The Beach Boys before he died in 1983, is next. (Dennis drummed on “Endless Harmony” on Keepin’ The Summer Alive, but that’s not anything major.) Baby Blue is a quiet number, featuring Carl on the verses, and Dennis on the choruses. Like most of the album, the strong pint really is the vocals here. The next song, Carl’s Goin’ South is also like this. Carl does a great job vocally, but it’s really a sleeper song. It’s not that it is bad; it’s just that it isn’t anything rather spectacular.
The album concludes really much like Friends did ten years earlier, with a loud, out-of-place rocker. Shortenin’ Bread, a Brian arranged traditional song, with a backing track that dates to the Love You/Adult Child period. Carl takes lead, with significant contributions from Mike. It’s kind of a humorous way to end the album.
The artwork really reflects the strangeness of the line-up. All the cover features is twelve separate rectangles, ten for the songs, one that says “The Beach Boys” and one that says “L.A. (Light Album)”. Each block for the songs illustrates it as well as possible, although the dogs dancing to “Good Timin’” on the back look a little weird.
Nevertheless, it proves how much of a collage this is of what The Boys were doing in 1979. Mike and Al both supply their standard, lyrically light tracks (“Lady Linda”; “Sumahama”) and the wild Wilsons supplied the album with strange, odd ball ballads. Brian makes practically no contributions, except the arrangement of a children’s song that closes the LP. It is also worth noting that this is really the first album that Bruce is involved with where he isn’t heard prominently in some way. Throughout the mid- to late-sixties, he didn’t contribute compositions, but he could be heard in the backing vocals somewhere. Then, on Sunflower, Surf’s Up and latter on Keepin’ The Summer Alive and The Beach Boys ’85, he gave his own ballad. I’m sure he’s on backing vocals somewhere on several of these tracks, but there’s no point where you can really say “Ah, there’s Bruce!” Why would I discuss his absence more than Brian’s? Well, Bruce produced it for god’s sake! His time was probably so wrapped up in producing the disco number.
So, what’s the final word? It’s a hit-and-miss album. If it had a few stronger tracks in place of “Here Comes The Night”, I might say that it could have been up there with Holland and Sunflower, but like most of the latter-day Beach Boys albums, it misses just one thing that could make it, not only great, but sell. L.A. only charted at #100, despite having two top-fifty singles.
I think what most of these albums miss is serious involvement from Brian. There is no way one can estimate the casualty not only The Beach Boys felt, but what the music industry took when Brian began not caring. When he cared and when he was into it, he made the best music in the business. Pet Sounds is the ultimate example of this and so is Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. That’s not saying that Dennis and Carl weren’t good at making great music; the tracks on L.A. are a testament to that. It’s just that Brian has a certain genius that even his brothers couldn’t match.
O.K., so moving from the philosophical stuff, is this album worth getting? Well, if the album was available on the market by itself, I would say yes. However, when the album was reissued in 2000 all spiffy and remastered, it was issued with M.I.U. Album because L.A. was cursed simply because it came out after that album. It is also the second album on the disc, so you would have to go through the enormous trouble of skipping the first 12 tracks! Still, this shouldn’t keep the album from getting it’s worthy nod. It is good, not great and definitely not awful at the level of M.I.U. and Keepin’ The Summer Alive.

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