Monday, April 15, 2013

Beach Boys 9: Friends

Despite a dwindling fan base, the Beach Boys were still enough of a legacy outfit to stay on the record company’s schedule. (Besides, said company was still hoping Smile would be finished.) In the meantime, Mike Love discovered the Maharishi, and got to hang out with the Beatles in India studying meditation. When he came back, he joined the other Boys and completed the surprisingly brief Friends album.
Brian was more involved this time out, and it shows, particularly in the mostly instrumental “Passing By”. He has a writing credit on nearly every track, with the exception of those written by Dennis, of all people. Unfortunately, the drums still sound they’re coming from a speaker in a box, as they do throughout the entire album.
“Meant For You” is something of a prelude, leading right into the lazy loping title track. “Wake The World” has a similar hammock-swaying feel, punctuated by a tuba on the chorus. The under-produced sound of “Be Here In The Morning”, along with the strained falsetto, makes it sound like a demo, but then the Leslie effect on the last chorus shows that they had a decent grasp on experimenting with effects. “When A Man Needs A Woman” is an uninspired title for a song about having kids—a good-sized leap from the heroes and villains and columnated ruins of the year before.
“Anna Lee, The Healer” gets a much more elaborate vocal arrangement than it deserves, but soon our attention turns to Dennis. “Little Bird” sounds like he distilled what he remembered of the Smile sessions into a single track—and indeed, some of “Child Is Father Of The Man” makes it into the mix—but “Be Still” hints at the “dark genius” that he’d be hailed as in the decades after his death. Whatever his demons, they’re not yet as unsettling as the laundry list of distractions Brian details in “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”. Then they pull out all the effects out o the closet to paint a sound picture of Hawaii on “Diamond Head” (for the surfers still listening). Finally, “Transcendental Meditation” ends the program with an actual drumset accompaniment and fuzzy horns.
Even habitual stoners must have been scratching their heads over Friends, just as their longtime fans would have been confused over whether their heroes were still clean-cut and spiffy. There are some excellent moments here, but they’re fleeting, and most of the songs are so short that the better ideas don’t have the space to blossom. It makes it difficult to root for them. 1990’s two-fer CD paired Friends with 20/20, but the only bonus tracks came from sessions for the next album. This was rectified somewhat in 2018 with the digital-only release of Wake The World: The Friends Sessions, which offered a disc’s worth of alternate versions, backing tracks, a cappella mixes, and castoffs, including Brian’s unique solo take on “My Little Red Book” and an instrumental stab at “Rock & Roll Woman”. Even if the songs weren’t there, the boys could play.)

The Beach Boys Friends (1968)—2
1990 CD reissue: same as 1968, plus 20/20 album and 5 extra tracks

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