So Tough is the first and maybe last album by Carl and the Passions, the aptly-named once and future Beach Boys. The myserious, reclusive Brian (having endured another aesthetic triumph with the last album, Surf’s Up) seems to have abdicated the leadership of the organization into the capable hands of brother Carl; only two of the album’s eight cuts were composed by Brian, with lyrics by Jack Reilly, and he obviously arranged a third and did the heavy orchestration on brother Dennis’ two contributions. Two numbers were jointly written by the two non-Wilson veterans, Al Jardine and Mike Love, and the remaining pair were penned by Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, guitarist and drummer respectively, who were recruited from a defunct South African band, Flame, which the B.B.’s had brought to this country to record. The project didn’t come off. Dennis maimed his arm in a chain saw accident and had to give up percussion, Bruce Johnston (who had replaced Brian for touring purposes) left amicably, and Chaplin and Fataar became Beach Boys — oops — Passions.
The best stuff first. “Marcella” is in the classic mold of the best of Brian’s parking lot rockers, capturing the synthesis of the “so tough” ambience of the pom pom playgirl, the new girl in school, the 1972 Rhonda. This babe is set off by glistening synthesized effects, rhythmic chimes and Mike Love’s familiar, tough vocal poses and struts;
One arm over my shoulder
Sandals dance at my feet
Eyes that knock you right over
Oooooo Marcella so sweet.
Just like ’64. Mmmmmm, so fine.
“You need a Mess of Help To Stand Alone” is the only other Brian/Reilly effort, and why it was released as the single instead of the bejeweled “Marcella,” to which it can’t hold the proverbial candle, is known only to some incompetent loon in Burbank.
The two Jardine/Love numbers, whose authors comprise the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi cadre within the Beach Boys, both continue along the forward-looking sincere lines of their work on Surf’s Up. “He Is Come” (arranged by Brian) is a gospel-flavored celebration of Maharishi consciousness (to each his own, I admit) and is pretty neat for its tight, six-voice choral singing and the crackling energy of the vocal jamming on repeated choruses at the end. “All This Is That” was arranged by Carl (whose own songs are sorely, sorely missed on this album, especially after the angelic “Feel Flow” that dominated Surf’s Up). “All This Is That,” with its light harmonies and pretty rhythmic vocals is reminiscent of “Cool Water,” from Sunflower, and it’s a delight, one of the pleasures of this record.
Pressing on, we find ourselves heading slightly downhill. The two Chaplin/Fataar tunes are derivative and boring. “Here She Comes” sounds like Traffic. “Hold On Brother” sounds like the Band with pedal steel guitar thrown in. Execrable.
Dennis Wilson’s two songs are both delivered in an irritating nervous tremolo which isn’t at all helped by Brian’s big-toned symphonic accompaniment to his troubled brother’s heavy-handed lyrics and rudimentary piano playing. The more trite and tortured the lyrics, the louder the strings become, until both “Make It Good” and “Cuddle Up” are swallowed up in a lugubrious Mahleresque crescendo.
So Tough’s insurmountable problem is that only four of the eight cuts fall into the subtly specialized class of “acceptable” Beach Boy material. It was, at least honest, to call the band Carl and the Passions. Because the difference is Brian, and the difference hurts.