I listened to the Beach Boys a lot growing up, along with a lot of other music from this period. I had some Greatest Hits tapes and such, I believe. So when I discovered actually interesting music, the Beach Boys went the way of nearly all oldies bands and artists I listened to – I basically stopped listening to them.
Years later, I have been inundated by the endless talk of how amazing the Beach Boys were. There has been a Beach Boys rehabilitation project undertaken by numerous music critics (and many musicians) for the last 20-25 years and it has taken a band who were an oldies act in the 80s and turned them into one of the most overrated bands in the history of popular music. To read some music critics, nobody in the history of music has made music that lives up to the best Beach Boys music which, if you think about it, is totally insane. So I come to records like this with a good degree of prejudice born from the annoyance at being told by everyone how amazing a couple Beach Boys records are. (This being one of those records that is forgotten in these celebrations.)
With time, I have come to respect Pet Sounds a whole heck of a lot, though I came to it way too late to love it. And I legitimately enjoy Smiley Smile. But I figured this record would be a chore, as I have essentially been told to ignore it by those people who think so highly of this band (or Brian Wilson, really).
So imagine my surprise. The reviews are generally awful but this is not an awful record by any means. Actually, it’s fun, it’s goofy and it features rather assured lyrics from a 20-year old. It’s not a classic by any means, but it is much, much better than I have been led to believe.
Wilson takes rock and roll lyric cliches and personalizes them, turning them on their heads or giving them new levels of depth. Nowhere is this better displayed than on the rather brilliant “County Fair,” a story song complete with interruptions from the characters being sung about. It’s super ambitious for a 2-minute song by 20-year-old amateur.
There are also some duds (“Surfin’,” the anemic cover of “Summertime Blues”) and the performances are raw and nowhere near as polished as anyone would expect who has only heard their later work. But honestly I don’t know why everyone hates this album so much. It’s clear there’s talent here, even if they’re a little raw.