Sunday, October 15, 2006

Vinyl Tap: The Beach Boys Today!

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #25:

With summer now turning into fall, it’s never a smooth seas-to-leaves transition here in Southern California. I yearn, perhaps too perversely much, for the autumnal melancholy - when I can brood with abandon. Something’s gotta wipe this summertime smile off my face.

I must, however, wait out the fits-and-starts of my meteorological mindset. Today, a few days after 100 to-the-nth degree conditions, it’s refreshingly overcast and cool - and 20 degrees cooler. But it’ll get hot again, and cool then, and hot yet more as the thermometer’s wigged-out mercury gets all mercurial and all but bursts from its seemingly ceaseless careening.

Come to think of it, though, in a fitting reconciliation of record-breaking temps to successful record-making attempts, I have a one-album-fits-all-temperaments LP that should do the one-stop mood-shopping trick and get me through the five-day forecast flip-outs. At the start of this season, I aptly and gladly Vinyl-Tapped for another moment in the sun, Endless Summer, the quintessential compilation soundtrack for warm-clime lollygagging. 

Now, as I "feel-flow" into fall-time free-fall, the perfect accompaniment, I'm thinking, is the Janus-faced Beach Boys Today!  Side A is tethered to the trademark and traditionally infecto-pop Beach Boys thrills, but it's a whole new story on the innovative other side, which spotlights Brian Wilson’s largely unexpected foreshadowing of Pet Sounds-style sonic sublimity. Though perhaps much to the consternation of a perennially perplexed Mike Love, Today covers all facets.

I, on the other hand, am going to be more selective here. For the sake of this review I'm dispensing with the first side’s consistent string of familiar hook-filled songs to focus on the more anticipatory autumnal second side, mostly comprised as it is of a seamless sequence of warm, relaxed-fit but still anxiety-ridden ballads complexly arranged with orchestra-bolstered production.

So, like Brian dove into the experimental deep end at first opportunity, I’m going to jump right into the five-song untried-but-true tunes Brian felt compelled to, and given liberty to, write and produce after having quit the concert tour circuit to concentrate on studio work.

The first song on this particular first shot of production freedom pays off bigtime. It may be a little jarring to flip the platter from the joyous frug-worthy excitations of “Dance, Dance, Dance,” which closes side one, to the affecting, heart-on-sleeves “Please Let Me Wonder.” But the soothing melody of “Please” will capture and enrapture you right away, as lyrics implore (though not seeking answer quite yet!), “Please let me wonder / If I'm who you're dreaming of.” Palpitations and trembles and walking on air is enough for now. Please let me continue to be smitten…

In the musical makeover “I’m So Young,” a gorgeously rearranged and intricately harmonious cover of a ‘50s doo-wop song -- graced with Brian's transcendent falsetto -- finds a love-struck couple ready to take the next problematically marital step. But the honeymoon may be over for the quarrelsome twosome in the piercing “Kiss Me Baby,” as -- in bewitchingly harmomic splendor -- the songs builds in its exuisite reminiscence of the thematic teenage apprehension at the core of “Don’t Worry Baby":

    Please don't let me argue anymore
    I won't make you worry like before
    Can't remember what we fought about
    Late late last night we said it was over
    But I remember when we thought it out
    We both had a broken heart
    …Kiss Me Baby…

Elsewhere, other mixed-up match-ups, instead of having “thought it out,” fight it out instead. “I treat her so mean I don't deserve what I have,” bewails a clearly bothered Brian in “She Knows Me Too Well,” a standout and poignant track lyrically suggestive of Pet Sounds in its emphasis on a troubled relationship - this one burdened with immaturity. Though “she can tell... I really love her," nonetheless “When I look at other girls it must kill her inside / But it'd be another story if she looked at the guys / 'Cause she knows me so well…”

Furthermore, the sophisticated instrumentation, soaring vocals and all-embracing harmonies pack a punch in their own visceral way that is on par with anything from the hits-on-parade of Side A, such as “Good To My Baby” or “When I Grow Up To Be A Man.”

Moving on, the soul-shattering "In The Back Of My Mind,” is unique in featuring Dennis Wilson's soulful solo on a heartrending vocal, expressively conveying some of Brian’s most personal and ultimately self-doubting lyrics:

    I'm blessed with everything
    A world to which a man can cling
    So happy at times when I break out in tears
    In the back of my mind I still have my fears…

This idiosyncratically haunting song also features some orchestral and percussive instrumentation that will find echo not only in Pet Sounds, but in Brian’s “pocket symphony,” “Good Vibrations.” But for Today‘s “Back Of My Mind,“ the coda features an abrupt and discordant crescendo suggesting a “to be continued” open-ended promise of better things to come.

Though not necessarily real soon, that is, except for Today's clashing and disposable comic-relief ending cut. “Bull Session With The ‘Big Daddy,’” is of mildly-amusing interest upon first listen, but otherwise it mars the spirit and creativity at work in The Beach Boys Today!

At this point, the group, if not re-trenching in response to Capitol Record's assembly-line pressure, at least went into an enjoyable-enough holding pattern with the next two albums, Summer Days (And Summer Nights), and Beach Boys Party.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a masterpiece was being created by a mastermind. And no, it wasn't Mike Love.


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