One listen makes you realise that the Flaming Lips, Midlake and Eric Matthews...
Daryl Easlea 2008-06-06
Long unavailable, many have never heard this record. Never being much of a Beach Boys fan growing up (simply too overrated); the more people eulogised about this and offered me a listen to a black-market copy of Dennis Wilson's lone solo outing, the more I shied away. Well, my smart-arsed loss. Pacific Ocean Blue is nearly as good as everyone has always said it was. And the poignancy of Wilson's life and death further enforces its status as a critical holy grail. It even may be worthy of the quantity of chin that has been stroked to it over the years.
What a pleasure to discover it now. Pacific Ocean Blue is the amusement arcade with the paint peeling, the carnie clown's cracked make-up fading as they pack away their act after another late September weekend of half-full applause and bitter tears. The other side of summer. Released in 1977, it was the first ever Beach Boy solo album, and much to the chagrin of Mike Love in particular, it became the sort of artistic success that the group themselves hadn't enjoyed for a long while.
Written and recorded in fits and starts since the mid-70s, Wilson took his brother Brian's painstaking approach, but came to the studio as a non-musician, with boundless possibilities that had to offer. The bass harmonicas and Dixie jazz of Dreamer; the layered vocals of River, Time with its flugelhorn, all dazzle in their understated way. Wilson's voice is the real revelation. It's barely there, sounds like its on the brink of collapse, and has a charm all of its own.
The accompanying Bambu sessions weren't designed to be a full album, and they lack the cohesive nature of the first disc. But for his duet with brother Carl, It’s Not Too Late alone, and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins’ spirited vocal version of Holy Man, it completes a genuinely exciting package which will finally bring the recording to a new and much-deserved audience.
Only 200,000 people bought Pacific Ocean Blue. To paraphrase Brian Eno's quotation about the Velvet Underground, half went on to make records that sounded like it; half went on to be music critics. One listen makes you realise that the Flaming Lips, Midlake and Eric Matthews weren’t that innovative after all.