Thursday, June 21, 2012

Friends - The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys
Capitol  ST 2895

When the Beach Boys announced that they were reuniting for a 50th anniversary tour, my initial reaction was shock followed by dismay.  I love their music, but I don't love Mike Love.  I've read lots of books and articles about the band and none of them have ever had anything flattering to say about Love, indeed he often comes across as a villain, Brian Wilson's merciless nemesis.  I can see Al Jardine and Love burying the hatchet despite their recent animosity, they both want the money.  But I can't fathom why Brian would want to share a stage with these guys, I've seen his solo shows, he definitely doesn't need them and I doubt that he cares about the money.  I hope his decision stems from some sense of loyalty to his ex-bandmates and perhaps a desire to celebrate his accomplishments and that he hasn't been coerced into doing it by Love.  I skipped the local shows but I heard they were pretty good.  I don't care though, nothing could induce me to pay money to watch Mike Love on stage.  Aside from Brian the only Beach Boy I have much affection for is Dennis Wilson and of course he definitely isn't going to be there.  Dennis is very much present on this album however and happily for me Mike Love is hardly on it at all.  Love was in India with the Beatles seeking enlightenment from the Maharishi.  Love has some co-composer credits on several songs but only sings on two songs for a total of less than three minutes of music.  This was the Beach Boys' third studio album after the "Smile" debacle (which Love deserves a lot of the blame for according to Domenic Priore's book on "Smile.")  It is a modest album, extremely skimpy, but I'm fond of it.  Brian is still contributing at this point, in fact he has a credit on every song aside from Dennis' two songs.  The album begins with the 38 second long "Meant For You" which introduces the theme of love and serenity that permeates the album.  It is sung by Love who then disappears for the rest of the side.  It is followed by the only major song on this album, the title song "Friends."  It was written by the three Wilson brothers and Al Jardine.  How appropriate that Mike Love is missing from a song about the value of friendship and supporting each other through good times and bad.  Carl Wilson sings a strong lead with gorgeous back-up support from the others.  The basic tune is a waltz with lots of musical flourishes on top.  The song has a rich instrumental sound and a complex arrangement.  It could easily be mistaken for an outtake from "Smile."  "Wake The World" is a simpler song but it has a charming horn line and elaborate vocal arrangements.  Too bad it is such a short song although given how simple-minded the lyrics are, perhaps it is just as well.  The soulful "Be Here In The Mornin'" features processed vocals which is unusual with The Beach Boys.  The lyrics are again very simplistic.  The jaunty "When A Man Needs A Woman" is about starting a family and has a very appealing vocal from Brian.  "Anna Lee, The Healer" is a collaboration between Brian and Love and name-checks Rishikesh, the location where the Maharishi had his ashram.  It is more stripped down then most of the songs on the record as it is largely driven by a solid piano riff and it is more spirited than most of the album.  Dennis has the next two songs.  "Little Bird" is the second best song on the album.  It celebrates nature's harmony and is sensitively sung by Dennis.  It is a beautiful song and quite moving.  The philosophical "Be Still" is more of a drone with another fine vocal from Dennis.  I'm impressed by the depth and feeling Dennis brings to his music.  After this album Dennis' songs would repeatedly reveal the quiet intelligence that burned within him and I would say that after Brian he was the best songwriter in the group.  The aptly titled "Busy Doin' Nothin'" is a solo contribution from Brian that describes a day in his life.  It gives insight into his mindset at the time.  Musically it reminds me of Antonio Carlos Jobim and it has a musical simplicity that suits it well.  The album concludes with "Transcendental Meditation" essentially a commercial for the Maharishi although fortunately he is never mentioned by name.  It is a silly song but I dig the horns and the lively melody.  There are two instrumentals on the album as well.  "Passing By" features some wordless vocalizing from Brian and sounds like a work in progress.  "Diamond Head" is Hawaiian flavored and reminds me of the exotica lounge music of Martin Denny.  It is an elaborate production but I don't feel like it fits in well with the rest of the album.  "Friends" is basically a transitional album.  My favorite Beach Boys albums are "Pet Sounds" and "Smile."  I like Brian's fanciful pop confections and the big elaborate production numbers of their classic period.  This album moves away from that.  It points in the direction the band would follow for the next several years as they entered their hippie phase singing about being true to nature instead of your school and exploring spirituality and self-awareness with a more direct and mellow style of music.  "Friends" is about personal fulfillment and being at one with the world.  I appreciate the spiritual character and tranquil feeling of the music, but it is too relaxed for my taste.  The banality of so much of this album seems like a reaction against the brilliant wordplay that Van Dyke Parks brought to "Smile."  I don't approve of that, yet I can't resist the charm and good vibes of this record.  It makes me feel good.  Recommended to people who like yoga better than aerobics.   

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