Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beach Boys 11: Sunflower

The Beach Boys were never supposed to last as long as they did, and certainly not past the first handful of songs about cars and surfing. But along the way, Brian became a stronger writer, and evolved into the composer that’s so revered today. As for the other guys, they became a “band” by default, much like the Monkees, and there continues to be argument over whether their post-Pet Sounds albums have merit.
Case in point: There is a school of thought that decrees Sunflower, the first Beach Boys album of the ‘70s as well as for a new label, a masterpiece tragically unappreciated in its time. That opinion is not shared here.
The cover features a nice sunny photograph of the six Beach Boys with assorted toddlers, and in Mike Love’s case, a formidable beard. Beneath the track listing on the rear is an exhaustively detailed description of the technology that went into capturing the music. In all, it’s not clear just whom they were hoping to impress.
In a smart move, Brian’s writing is a common thread. “This Whole World” wanders through a labyrinth of changes and a tight Spector arrangement. “Add Some Music To Your Day” is another hymn to the healing powers of music, and while a nice sentiment, it tries too hard. “All I Wanna Do”, simple as it is, is a good period piece.
Dennis contributes four songs, and quite honestly, his slower moody ones ring more true than the rockers. Case in point: “Slip On Through” and “Got To Know The Woman” just seem forced, while “Forever” is a home run, sappy as it is. Carl’s getting more involved too, equally adept at carrying a driving rocker like “It’s About Time” (a full band collaboration with several out-of-tune instruments) as he is with a romantic tune like “Our Sweet Love”, about which the worst we can say is that the chorus lets down the rest of the song.
Bruce Johnston is given nearly equal time here, and the results are mixed. “At My Window” is a trifle of a song about a bird who came to the location in question. “Deirdre” is a strange little love song written with Brian, something of a 4 Seasons number with a slight orchestral arrangement and a stupid trombone part. His showpiece is “Tears In The Morning”, which is excruciating on several levels. First, it rhymes “morning” with “warning”, dropping the letter G in both cases, then the accordion comes in too early before we’re told she moved to Europe. Pretty soon we don’t blame her for leaving, if only so she could miss the pointless atmospheric tag at the end of the track.
Just to confuse things altogether, the final five minutes of the album are given over to “Cool Cool Water”, an impressionistic piece that began in the Smile era and was never really finished, except that Mike Love seemed to get into it enough to contribute lyrics. After all, in an ocean or in a glass, cool water is such a gas.
Sunflower sounds a little dated today, which is understandable. What keeps it from being a classic, no matter what anybody else says, is its random construction. It’s one thing to have a variety of styles, but they have to hang together to make an album. Those heavenly harmonies pop up everywhere, but sometimes the effect is more like somebody else doing a Beach Boys homage than what’s accepted to be the real thing. It just barely gets a passing grade, and only because the melodies do stick.

The Beach Boys Sunflower (1970)—3

1 comment:

  1. I agree this is not the classic that many insist it is. (I've seen some claim it betters Pet Sounds, which seems a real stretch.) But not because of the random construction. I wouldn't mind the change in styles at all if all the songs were good, but they're not. Bruce Johnston's songs in particular are pretty bad, and point the way to some of the worst of 70s pop songwriting. Dennis comes off well in general but "Got To Know The Woman" is tiresome. Nevertheless, there are some really good songs, if they were all as good as "This Whole World" and "Forever" the album would be an absolute classic regardless of whether it was particularly stylistically unified. The bad songs on Surfs Up are even worse...