The fact that the Beach Boys are apparently formally back on the Capitol label, rather than on their own label (“Brothers Records” which was distributed by Capitol), is a good clue to the direction of their latest album. They have retrenched musical forces for a more solid approach after the disaster of their Smiley Smile (Brothers Records 9001), an abortive attempt to match the talents of Lennon and McCartney.
This new record is the convalescence after the illness, a necessary pause and — since standing still is moving into the past — a step backward. Through most of the album the approach is a simple one: add the Beach Boy harmony and vocal style to pre-existing ideas and idioms. Of course, the approach is still unsatisfactory compared to the time when the Beach Boys were making their own idiom.
The title track is one of the nicest: theremin, heavily chorded piano and a repetitious melody line. The sexual associations are a touch too obvious, and the sock-it-to me line really out of place.
“Aren’t You Glad” is a Lovin’ Spoonful type song with the Beach Boy touch (“I’ve got a heart that just won’t stop beating for you …”). The group puts the same sort of Southern California make on Stevie Wonder’s fantastic “I Was Made to Love Her.” It is a competent version; whether you like it depends on whether Stevie Wonder means anything to you.
“Country Air” is the most relaxed and naturally achieved synthesis of innocence and sophistication that the Beach Boys are aiming for. Whether or not they recognize the success of this inconspicuously placed song, hugely successful in terms of what they have so obviously been aiming for, is doubtful. The song is about the Rousseauian-styled life of simplicity in the woods. The opening orchestral riffs set a thoroughly pastoral mood, and the single, well positioned cry of a rooster signals the entrance of the voices. The lyrics are unconsciously simpleminded, the simplicity which is the beauty of the whole Beach Boy stance since “Surfin USA.” They say “Get a breath of that country air, Breathe the beauty of the everywhere.”
“Darlin” is the song in which the Beach Boys really take R&B styling (which is what they did obviously with “I Was Made to Love Her,” and less obviously, but not less subtly, on “Wild Honey,”) and make it work in an original way. “How She Boogalooed It” recalls, in another R&B effort, the surfin’ guitar rhythms of the Beach Boys of yore.
It’s kind of amusing that the Beach Boys are suddenly re-discovering rhythm and blues five years after the Beatles and Stones had brought it all back home, but it is probably indicative of the transmogrification of the blues that is making R&B currently so popular with the public at large.
In any case it’s good to see that the Beach Boys are getting their heads straight once again.