Friday, June 21, 2013

Beach Boys 13: Carl And The Passions

Maybe as a recognition that that they weren’t the same band, the next Beach Boys album sported the unwieldy title of Carl And The Passions – “So Tough”—Carl of course being the most stable of the Wilson brothers. Bruce Johnston was ousted, and they brought in Blondie Chaplin and future Rutle Rikki Fataar to boost the guitar and drums respectively. They happened to be decent singers and songwriters to boot, which would help them on record as well as on stage. But their label clearly showed they weren’t completely behind the album by packaging it as a double, with Pet Sounds in the same jacket. It’s too bad, because the album is good enough to stand on its own.

Speaking of which, “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone” is an unwieldy title that unfortunately fits in the long line of “therapeutic” songs that Brian was obsessed with from about 1967 on, whether it be raw vegetables or jogging, when all he had to do was cut out the pot, pills and cheeseburgers. It’s got something of a “Wild Honey” feel, serving the same purpose to kick off side one. The new guys take over with “Here She Comes”, a generic title of its own, but decent ‘70s rock nonetheless. “He Come Down” has a terrific production, with plenty of soulful piano, Hammond organ and harmonies, but is ultimately another Mike Love advertisement for the Maharishi. But the “classic” Beach Boys sound returns on “Marcella”. This is the one people tend to cite as the best on the album, and while that’s a matter of taste, it does sound the most like a Brian Wilson creation.

The new guys emerge again on “Hold On Dear Brother”, with its prominent pedal steel and confusing time signature taking it far from the brand. Then there’s “Make It Good”, the return of Dennis, his voice already cracked and aged, full of the character for which he’d become a cult figure. It’s more like a lengthy interlude, rising up from nowhere and hanging in the air until it’s over, suddenly. It makes a nice setup for “All This Is That”, another mildly spacey number trading lead vocals between Carl and Mike, then returns the spotlight to Dennis for “Cuddle Up”, a lengthy ballad largely the product of the guy who would one day gain fame as half of Captain & Tennille.

So Carl And The Passions isn’t a bad album at all, since it doesn’t really sound like the stereotypical Beach Boys. It wasn’t an easy album to make, considering that each track sports different producers, eventually giving most of the credit to Carl. (And if eight songs seems short, the eventual session peek proved they didn’t have a lot of other ideas lying around.) Since we hadn’t expected much by now, and having been burned by the unfulfilled hype of its predecessors, it’s a recommended listen. Imagine that.

The Beach Boys Carl And The Passions – “So Tough” (1972)—3

1 comment:

  1. I find your review most interesting. Unlike everybody else, you rate it higher than the albums that bracket it! I get why you did so, even if I must go with the consensus.

    When it was released, it was pretty much trashed. Of course, the record company’s boneheaded decision to release it in a double pack with “Pet Sounds” (without the group’s name on the front cover!) didn’t help matters in the least. Reprise was then going to release four MORE double albums with the following Capitol albums paired with the next four new albums! The commercial tanking of this set torpedoed that, fortunately.

    Even taken on its own, “So Tough” has its problems. It’s far from their worst album – but it IS their most disjointed. The four pairs of songwriters sound like they aren’t paying any attention to what each other are doing! Despite Carl’s prominence in the title and credits, he doesn’t provide the production continuity which held “Surf’s Up” together. Mike also unwisely precipitated the firing of engineer Stephen Desper, who flatly refused to become an adherent of the Maharishi!

    Taken on their own, however, the songs are good. Fataar and Chaplin’s tracks show they were, at best, prematurely hired. The only “real” Beach Boys to appear on these is Carl; the other musicians were members of the live backing band. “Here She Comes” (sung mostly by Ricky) rolls along nicely. I used to really hate “Hold On Dear Brother”, sung by Chaplin. It’s grown on me over the years, but it does plod along a bit too long.

    Dennis and The Captain (also a member of the touring group) overdo the strings a bit on their songs. However, other Beach Boys do supply some beautiful, if atypical, backing vocals on “Cuddle Up”, so it’s the better of the two.

    Al and Mike, meanwhile, are back on their TM kick. Mike’s verse lyrics on “He Come Down” are even more cringeable than those of “Student Demonstration Time”, but damn if they sound authentic singing white gospel, particularly Carl’s lead and Blondie’s backing on the chorus and bridge. “All This and That” ended up being the best song the group ever wrote about the subject and would still up in the live setlist a few years later.

    Jack and Carl come along and rescue Brian’s contributions. Jack’s lyrics are a bit iffy, but of course, the hooks are the best of the album. “Marcella” is a flat out classic. These were the obvious singles, but nobody cared.

    The album does have the aura of a rush job. Reprise was eager, of course, to capitalize on the commercial momentum that “Surf’s Up” had brought them. But Brian would rather write and produce his wife and sister-in-law; the rest of the group, as usual, was heavily touring; and Rieley, apparently, was already planning/scheming their way to the Netherlands. That was too bad. With more time, focus, and smart marketing, this could have been a real classic. As such, I’d only recommend it after really absorbing “Surf’s Up” and “Holland”.