Monday, July 22, 2013

Beach Boys 14: Holland

Still trying to be relevant and chart-worthy, off the Beach Boys went to the Netherlands to do their first-ever studio recordings outside of California. Holland is another one of those Beach Boys albums held up as a forgotten masterpiece. Well, if they’re going to hold it up, we’re going to take aim at it.

Part of the problem is that they were still trying to wring blood from Brian’s stone. “Sail On Sailor” is worthy of his pen, even with the other hands in its composition. Blondie Chaplin takes the lead vocal on a truly great single. “Steamboat” is apparently a Dennis melody given lyrics by their manager, and is a plodding setup for the three-song “California Saga”. Here is an attempt to evoke the same Americana left abandoned on Smile, and an unlikely collaboration between Mike Love and Al Jardine. “Big Sur” sports a steel guitar and harmonica in waltz time, predicting “Piano Man” somewhat, and is most interesting in its minor sections. That segues into “The Beaks Of Eagles”, a lengthy poem recited over Al’s music, which would be a lot more enjoyable if they’d stuck to the choruses. Finally, “California” provides a more uptempo celebration of their home, with some overt references to “California Girls” and Pet Sounds, and baffling evocations of John Steinbeck and Country Joe & The Fish.

“Trader” is another decent, intricate backing with a dense Jack Rieley lyric foisted upon it; too bad Carl couldn’t have done more with this. A big surprise is “Leaving This Town”, wherein Blondie rises to the occasion again, this time over chords predicting “The Great Gig In The Sky”, split by a middle eight descended from “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys”. “Only With You” is a romantic Dennis tune sung by Carl, and it should be no surprise that the very basic lyrics come from Mike. (Well, better him than Rieley, who’d probably choose to mourn a lost falcon or something.) Brian’s final contribution—almost—was “Funky Pretty”, another good track sunk by wince-inducing lyrics mixing astrology and fairy tales.

Something of an explanation for this comes on the six-part suite, “Mount Vernon And Fairway”, included as a bonus 45, and now appended to the end of all CD versions of Holland. Apparently Brian wanted this to be the centerpiece of the album, but he was overruled, and it’s easy to see why. This really is a fairy tale, narrated by Rieley, about a magical kingdom where a lonely prince is both elated and devastated by the music he hears from a magical transistor radio. The music suggests another symphony, as Brian overlays pianos, organs and other keyboards, but Rieley’s delivery is worse than the story he’s narrating, and knowing what we know about Brian now, it comes off as a major cry for psychological help. “Better Get Back In Bed”, indeed.

So Holland’s highlights are provided by the non-Wilsons, seemingly. That’s probably why the ringers they brought in on Carl And The Passions left after the next tour. (More of what they brought to the table would one day be revealed on a comprehensive archival set.) Capitol, their original label, soon released Endless Summer, which helped sell the band as a nostalgia act, keeping them on the road and out of the studio (for the most) part for a few years. Going forward, their albums would have little to recommend them, with what few hits coming from odd places. Except, of course, anytime a new compilation reminded listeners of fun in the sun.

The Beach Boys Holland (1973)—


  1. I completely agree with your assessment of Holland, which has its moments but isn't great from top to bottom. However, I'm not sure I agree with your comment about their subsequent albums having little to recommend them. There's some very good material on those records, some even bordering on great. I hope you don't mind me doing a little self-promotion here, but I did a 9-part series on the Beach Boys catalog last year, revisiting everything they've released over the course of a few months. Here's a link:
    Maybe we can compare notes as you move forward. Cheers!

  2. My favorite Beach Boys album. That’s not the same as saying it’s their best. Everyone contributes something fine. “Big Sur” is Mike’s best solo contribution ever. I think the low-key production works better than on the earlier version (now on the “Feel Flows” boxed set). “California” is the only song on the album with the band’s usual trademark harmonies. The synth solo on “Leaving This Town” drags a bit, but thanks to Mike’s lyrical and Carl’s musical contributions, it’s more of a true Beach Boys song than their efforts from the last album. “Sail on Sailor” is the band’s last classic Brian Wilson single. “We Got Love”, the song it replaced on the vinyl (now legally available), suffers from underproduction. I suspect that it was the one track untouched in California after the actual Netherlands sessions. Again, the Fataar/Chaplin sound here wasn’t entirely compatible with the group, but it’s an OK song.

    The rest of the songs are both whimsical or mature throughout. Of course, one must ignore “Mount Vernon and Fairway”, the second installment (“Smiley Smile” is the first) of Brian’s accidental Trilogy of Psychosis. I first bought the album on cassette, so it wasn’t separated from the rest of the album in that format. VERY disturbing. It’s much easier to listen to the mix without the narration.

    Rieley’s rationale for going to “Holland” is still puzzling. Carl, Blondie and Ricky thought it was a good idea; in retrospect, Brian likes what came out of it. Al, however, though Rieley had a hidden agenda. I suspect that he was attracted by, shall we say, the more liberal aspects of the country, since he stayed. A couple of years later, EMI Holland released his solo album, called “Western Justice” It’s a concept album which seemed to take his “Trader” theme to album length. A rather pretty young Dutch man is prominent in the album photos and on lead vocals…

    I have to admit that I’m curious about your opinion of “The Beach Boys Love You”. But I fully understand if your decision to end your Beach Boys reviews here. This is their last classic album. I wouldn’t want you to slog through “15 Big Ones” and “Love You” just to satisfy my curiosity!

    1. Stopping here, since "Endless Summer" came out next, made sense at the time. I've since filled in other parts of the story, but unless I discover that any of the new "Beach Boys" albums recorded from 1976 on is actually a masterpiece, they will most likely stay unassessed in this forum.
      I very much appreciate all the comments you've left over the years! Keep 'em coming!

    2. That's why I'm wondering what you think of "Love You". SOME people think it IS a masterpiece. But opinions vary widely!