The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966): Review

Label – Capitol
Producer – Brian Wilson

The work of an artistic genius is rarely purveyed in an instantly gratifying compositional experience. For the full flavour to be realized, one has to deliberately peel back the layers, and understand the rich complexities that lie at the core of the collection. When singer Mike Love asked chief composer Brian Wilson “Who’s gonna hear this shit?” he was justified in his skepticism. After all, the majority of the music that The Beach Boys had built their reputation and success on was shiny, upbeat, accessible beat music. “Pet Sounds” is anything but conventional; an exploration of just how far one can push the boundaries of pop music via the experimental use of uncommon instrumentation, detailed symphonic arrangements, and thought provoking lyrics. The only vestige of the traditional Beach Boys sound that remained was the trademark vocal harmonies. Freed of the constraints of live performances, Wilson was able to delicately piece together the intense themes that influenced his creative muse, from a faltering relationship, drugs, deep emotional insecurity, and the competitive edginess that was provided by the success of The Beatles chart topping album from that same year, “Rubber Soul”.

To all intents, “Pet Sounds” is a solo project. Wilson directs every move with meticulous attention to detail, using trusted session musicians to envision the dimensional musical depth he intended for every moment of this recording. Gloriously fleshed out by some of the most heartrending upper register harmonies ever committed to vinyl, these deeply personal insights into Wilson’s state of mind have the luminescence to shine beyond anything he had previously created. There’s the sad realization of the ardors of adulthood on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and “I’m Waiting For The Day”, the love shot fantasy of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, and the barmy invention on the Al Jardine recommended “Sloop John B”. Brian and brother Carl’s deeply tender performance on the beautifully written ballad “God Only Knows” remains one of the definitive contemporary pop songs of all time, and deservedly so. Other highlights include the lyrically drug fuelled “I Know There’s An Answer”, and the gentle closer “Caroline, No”. Oddly, “Good Vibrations”, which was written during this period, was shelved for further investigation and manipulation, and undoubtedly emphasizes the amount of quality material Wilson and his entourage had at their disposal. The instrumental tracks on the album may be flawed but they are included to further demonstrate Wilson’s arrangement skills and for that reason are perfectly valid.

The beauty of this record is gently unassuming; the vivid spectrum of creativity and emotion is sweetly uncontrived. “Pet Sounds” remains Brian Wilson’s masterstroke.

9/10

A1 Wouldn’t It Be Nice 2:25
A2 You Still Believe in Me 2:34
A3 That’s Not Me 2:30
A4 Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) 2:54
A5 I’m Waiting for the Day 3:06
A6 Let’s Go Away for Awhile 2:21
A7 Sloop John B 3:00
B1 God Only Knows 2:52
B2 I Know There’s an Answer 3:11
B3 Here Today 2:55
B4 I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times 3:15
B5 Pet Sounds 2:23
B6 Caroline, No 2:53

Sloop John B

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2 responses to “The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966): Review

  1. 95/100. i don’t have brian’s intellect, so i don’t understand it all. i hear wonderful things, they cheer me up, i carry on with my life, and the world is a much, much, better place for the existence of this half an hour. as a footnote, God only knows what Brian thinks of that disgraceful murder of a VW advert. i almost sold my Golf……..

    • I don’t think there’s anyone on this earth who thinks on the same level as Brian. He’s a one off and probably knows it.

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