Monday, April 21, 2008

Review #30: Pacific Ocean Blue

Wow! Thirty reviews! I can't believe it...and I still have no idea if people actually read these ramblings....

In 1977, The Beach Boys were in a free-fall. M.I.U. Album, the shittiest piece of shit* to be placed on a record store shelf (although, I think all the ‘90s teeny popper stuff might rank up there) came out and flopped. The album’s only redeeming value is a heartbreaking song titled “My Diane”, by Brian Wilson and sung by Dennis. The irony of this is that around the same time, Dennis’s solo album, the first by a Beach Boy, PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE, was released, and although it stalled at #96 on the charts (despite rave reviews). It was still better that M.I.U.’s #151 chart showing. POB has been out-of-print for fifteen years, but now that time is over. Sony/Legacy is putting out a two-disc set, including all twelve songs on the LP remastered, bonus tracks from the sessions and tracks that may or may not have been on the follow-up, Bambu. The set will be released on June 17th and I can’t wait. I will have an extended, in-depth review of the set when it comes out. I’ve already got it pre-ordered, so you can tell how excited I am about this.
So, on with the review!

Piano…Chorus… “Walkin’ down…Might river….Water…Runnin’ through my knees…”…then Dennis… “Ooo…Mighty river, how I long to be like you…” This is easily one of the most emotional, uplifting and powerful openings an album can ask for. The song affectionately titled River Song and co-written with younger brother Carl, is amazing. The choir only adds to the power of it. It also proves right from the beginning of the album that Brian wasn’t the only mastermind of production in the group.
What’s Wrong is a punchy, straight-up Rock track that feels like it’s out of the Fifties. Dennis gives a soulful vocal performance, much like what is found on the rest of the album. The piano is the main instrument, laid down behind a mass of short, stop-and-go, thumping horns. Overall, a great rock-n-roll rave-up.
Next is the first of a number of great ballads found on the album, titled Moonshine. The thumping drums, mixed with an amazing choral, multi-layered set of backing vocals really help lift Dennis’s vocal to new heights.
Friday Night is a funny, if not frightfully shocking song, with one of the most interesting openings on the album. It goes on for about a full minute before the song kicks into gear. The song is simply about some horrific gang going out for the night. This one really shows the versatility of Dennis’s voice. It’s another paean to rock, but the song itself is not the point. It’s that amazing intro. The song is a very moody track.
Next is probably the centerpiece of the album, Dreamer. The most noteworthy aspect is the production. Dennis’s choices of instruments are as unique as Brian’s choices on Pet Sounds. He uses a bass harmonica, which Brian used to great effect in “I Know There’s An Answer.” The song is also a medley, with a downbeat segment coming in at about halfway through. Still, the song’s subject sums up Dennis the best. Here was a guy who never seemed to have any musical ambitions, and now that he had them, he was finally allowed to fulfill his dream with this solo album.
Thoughts Of You kicks off a trio of love songs. The track is built on a simple piano part, with strings on top. Dennis’s vocal is best here. We feel the tenderness in his voice and his longing for his lover. The most haunting segment comes in at about a minute with the bridge. An echo-drenched Dennis proclaims that he is in love and then there’s the “Look what you’ve done!” line that closes this bit. It leaves me in shock listening to it and sends a shiver down my spine.
Next sits Time, a number that features an out-of-this-world trumpet solo. Again, Dennis’s vocals are impeccable. The ending sequence is most surprising, with a great guitar part and melting vocals that lead to the fade.
With a smooth, jazzy opening, You And I is next. This wonderful track is filled with humor (“You open up a wallet and nothin’ falls out”) and great vocals. I especially love the “No more lonely nights” bit. The instrumental passage is lead by a wonderful guitar part. This is easily one of my favorite tracks from the album.
The title track, Pacific Ocean Blues, is next, surprisingly co-written by Mike Love. This wonderful track would have fit on any number of early ‘70s Beach Boy albums, especially with its’ ecologically friendly lyrics. It is the closest we get to a Beach Boy-type song, mostly because you can at least make out Mike and Carl on the backing vocal parts. My favorite part is the wonderful keyboard/synthesizer lines spread throughout the track.
Farewell My Friend is the first part of a duo of songs that are tear-jerking, especially with Dennis no longer being among us. The track has a wonderful vibe to it, with sound effects and the backing track is very smooth, almost reggae-esque to a point.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand the placing of this song, but the wonderful, joyous Rainbows is next. This lovely track sticks out among the great productions here, especially with the mandolin (I think). The backing vocals, in which you can make out Carl, do a lovely “Wooo-aaa—oohh” thing during the verses, which is just as amazing as the wonderful vocal performance by Dennis.
The album closes out with the eerie End Of The Show. It is a fitting ending to an amazing album and a fitting end to what can be considered the last officially released artistic statement by one of the greatest members of the rock business. The piano is breathtaking and the addition of a crowd applauding does no harm at all.
So, there you have it. A review on Pacific Ocean Blue, easily one of the most important releases of the 1970s. As the first Beach Boy solo album, it shows what was missing greatly from the Beach Boy albums of the late-‘70s: creativity. Dennis followed no trends and made no concessions to anyone to make this record and it shows. This not only felt like the Pet Sounds of the ‘70s for the Boys, I think it is. Imagine if all the Boys decided to put Dennis in the command chair, rather than Brian in 1976? We would have Pacific Ocean Blue with the Beach Boys’ wonderful harmonies backing Dennis, instead of a bunch of session people whose names are unknown. It’s not that those people didn’t do a good job; it’s just that no one beats their voices.

*Sorry for the language, but I had to say that, because it's the only way to describe how awful that album is. Plus, if the stupid Rolling Stone can say it, why can't I?

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