DENNIS WILSON Pacific Ocean Blue (Sundazed)
15 years of unavailability have contributed to “Pacific Ocean Blue”’s lost classic status, strengthening the grip of rumour and legend in the absence of supporting evidence. Reissued as a handsomely packaged blue vinyl (naturally) triple album, housed in a triple gatefold sleeve crammed with context setting essays and a reproduction of the original album’ lyric folio, it struggles to walk the talk.
There’s too much clumping West Coast AOR on “Pacific Ocean Blue” to earn it an unequivocal recommendation. When it’s good, however, it lends considerable support to those who argue the case for Dennis’ genius. “River Song” is a breathtaking opener, restating The Beach Boys’ ecological concerns with awesome, overblown gospel fervour. It’s the sound of someone with ideas and ambition finally blessed with the support, encouragement and connections to realise them. It would take some pretty spectacular music, however, to redeem any song that opens with the lines “Love the way you move me/Love the way you groove me/I believe in rock and roll”, and what’s wrong with the cheesy and faintly embarrassing “What’s Wrong” is that it doesn’t have any. Similarly “Moonshine” hangs in the balance, a sugary sweet confection that’s saved by a fragile piano intro and an unsettled, unpredictable melody. “Friday Night” is also blessed with an arresting intro – it’s the one part of a song that Dennis seems to reliably get right – that’s sort of Eno-gone-Southern California, and dropping references to white punks into the lyrics is a pretty hip thing for a Beach Boy to be doing in 1977. “Dreamer” fashions a reasonable approximation of Little Feat’s slightly skewed funk, with “Spanish Moon”, in particular, being a reference point here. Perhaps not coincidentally, future Little Foot Fred Tackett is one of a dozen guitarists credited on this reissue. “Thoughts Of You” begins as a weary, heartfelt piano ballad but, perhaps appropriately for something that sounds like the work of a man attempting to apologise for a major misdeed, becomes suffused with black dread. The genuinely remarkable arrangement of “Time” moves from desperate romance to late night barroom melancholia to a wild, stomping experimentation that sounds like Chicago covering Mogwai. The flipside, though, is that Wilson’s attention and ideas often wander and ramble to little effect, suggesting that what he needed most was a sympathetic producer to hone and focus his natural abilities.
So, anyone of the opinion that “Pacific Ocean Blue” is more of a misplaced period piece than a lost classic might feel less than enthused at the prospect of two more albums of unreleased material, consisting of outtakes from the main attraction and material recorded for its abandoned follow-up “Bambu”. Yes, these sides are plagued by the same cohesion-sapping diversity and clunking clichés, but it’s here, unvarnished and unheard, that those wild claims of Wilson’s untutored genius are substantiated. “Holy Man” offers haunting but unsentimental pop craft, both in its original instrumental incarnation and when augmented with the vocals of, of all people, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who can’t match Dennis’ crumpled, ragged tone but performs sterling service nonetheless. “Mexico” unspools a convoluted melody it’s almost impossible to imagine shouldering a lyric, and “It’s Not Too Late” makes the family connection explicit, sounding like a “Pet Sounds” demo that’s been catapulted forward through time. “Are You Real” builds into the kind of symphonic epic Dire Straits would perfect with ”Telegraph Road”, and the funk/bossa nova/gospel smash-up “Constant Companion” really shouldn’t have spent the last three decades languishing in a vault. There’s some vital music here, but the knuckledragging rock ‘n’ roll pastiche “Under The Moonlight” and self-deprecating tat of “He’s A Bum” do not enhance his legacy.
An album as contradictory and conflicted as its doomed creator, especially in this jumbo enhanced form, there’s enough thrilling, diverse music here for every purchaser to lash together their own preferred version of Dennis Wilson’s solo career, even if no two of them will agree what that might be.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys