Monday, July 22, 2013

Beach Boys 13: 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. 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 comment:

  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!