Friday, September 27, 2013

Dennis Wilson: Pacific Ocean Blue

Initially hailed more for his looks than his musical ability, Dennis Wilson was nonetheless a talented individual, overshadowed by his more gifted brothers and loudmouth cousin. He was never the greatest drummer, but Brian always included him in the harmonious vocal blend of whatever he was working on. Before the end of the ‘60s, he’d even started writing songs; to everyone’s surprise, even the spottiest albums had something worth hearing from Dennis.
The boy also loved to party, and before long his voice had taken on a marked rasp; this, however, only made it seem more “soulful” (and not that different from the change Brian’s own voice started to make). During the ‘70s, when all of the official Beach Boys, touring players and all of their friends were fighting for space on the albums, Dennis often saw his songs overlooked for inclusion. So when he completed his solo album, it was as inevitable as it was surprising, seeing as none of the other Beach Boys had tried it first. More to the point, Pacific Ocean Blue holds up much better than what the band was doing around the same time.
Being the decade that it was (and the drugs he was taking) some of the songs venture dangerously near funk. Instead, he’s at his best when he’s found a decent chord sequence, the slower the better. The lyrics aren’t going to be mistaken for the great American novel, but one leaves feeling that his repeated statements of devotion are heartfelt.
“River Song” is a good opener, with some themes his big brother would appreciate. “What’s Wrong” is fairly dopey, but “Moonshine” is lush and loving. Here, as on much of the album, Dennis plays most of the instruments, as he does on the spacey intro to “Friday Night”. “Dreamer” is another “big” production, unfortunately sitting somewhere between “Rock On” and “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack, except for the middle section that channels Brian again. “Thoughts Of You” likely has a lot to why people love this album, a gorgeous meditation over major-sevenths and major-ninths with a stirring minor-key middle.
“Time” floats in on the same musical ideas that drove “Thoughts Of You” until an extended coda right off of a Chicago album. That sound could also apply to “You And I”, a single that may have been just a little too mellow for Top 40. “Pacific Ocean Blues” brings back the funk, but that’s wiped away by “Farewell My Friend”, a eulogy sadly colored by wacky synth effects, and would one day be played at his own funeral. The sadness gives way to the banjos and mandolins of “Rainbows”, leaving “End Of The Show” as an ambiguous closer.
There is a school of thought that considers Pacific Ocean Blue to be some kind of cracked masterpiece, along the lines of Berlin, Skip Spence’s Oar or other weirdo projects. As anyone who’s read thus far should be able to tell, the masterpiece tag, cracked or otherwise, isn’t readily thrown about here. (If anything, it conjures comparisons with Duff McKagan’s solo album, and that’s not meant to be complimentary to either.) But legends persist and the album was given a couple of new leases on life, first in 1991 with the rollout of the Beach Boys’ ‘70s catalog on CD, then again in 2008 with a deluxe version. In addition to outtakes, a second disc was devoted to the sessions for his unfinished follow-up, one of the songs now enhanced with vocals by the Foo Fighters’ drummer that’s not Dave Grohl.

Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)—3
2008 Legacy Edition: same as 1977, plus 21 extra tracks

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