Dennis Wilson's solo album, "Pacific Ocean Blue," was eagerly anticipated by Beach Boys fans when it was originally released in 1977.
"Pacific Ocean Blue," the solo album by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, sounds like faded glory
It's an album that had gained a cult status. To say that the deluxe reissue of late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's 1977 album, "Pacific Ocean Blue," was hotly anticipated is an understatement. In its first week, it was the fourth most-bought rock release on Amazon.com; it debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard album chart and was 16th in the UK.
"Pacific Ocean Blue -- Legacy Edition"
(Epic / Legacy)
Why the fuss? Wilson's album was the first solo release by a member of the beloved surf-pop band, containing an unexpectedly rich sound that, at times, approached his brother Brian's genius.
Out of print in its original CD format for more than a decade, "Pacific Ocean Blues" has been reissued with additional art and copious liner notes. More important, it includes much-sought-after songs from recording sessions for a follow-up CD that was never made. Wilson's deteriorating health, due to alcohol and substance abuse during the last five years of his life, culminated in his accidental drowning in late '83. He was 39.
The charismatic musician was an integral part of the Beach Boys. As David Leaf wrote in his essay (included as a PDF file on the two-disc reissue), "It was Dennis' enthusiasm for surfing, cars and girls -- for life itself -- that first inspired the songs about the Southern California dreamscape, that helped turn the Wilson family music room into the birthplace of the group. Dennis was also vital to the music, an absolute key voice in the harmony blend and a powerful (if unschooled) stage drummer who was the focal point of the girls' screams."
But while Brian Wilson was changing the landscape of American pop music with the wondrous studio soundscapes of the "Pet Sounds" album and the song "Good Vibrations," it was younger brother Dennis who surprised everyone with the emotive power of the songs on his solo album. (The album, however, was basically overlooked due to the megasuccess of the band's "Endless Summer" compilation, pigeonholing the Beach Boys forever as a retro act.)
THIRTY-ONE years later, Wilson's album still has its glorious moments but feels curiously unfulfilled. There are songs here that, to my ears, are faded prematurely. Boldly arranged tunes (with the help of Jimmie Haskell) like "Time" and "Rainbows" end too soon, the promise of a completely realized song drifting into silence. One faded song does work: The nakedly expressed "Thoughts of You" rises and falls with Wilson's raw-and-rough vocal with string counterpoint and ends with the poignant lyric, "Silently, you touch my face."
Still, there's much to enjoy and admire here. The opening "River Song" -- originally introduced to the Beach Boys concert set list in 1973 -- is a soulful paean to the waters of life. Taking elements of a song originally titled "Hawaiian Dream," "Farewell My Friend" comes off as a heartfelt, if ethereal and slightly spacey, tribute to a departed friend, complete with Martin Denny-like exotica elements of piano, marimba and birdcalls.
Other tantalizing tidbits can be found in the bonus tracks of "Tug of Love," with its choir-sung bridge and echo guitar, and the closing "Mexico," a languid instrumental that builds on its haunting, recurring melody with horns and synthesized strings.
As for the songs scheduled for Wilson's second album, "Bambu" (like the rolling papers), his sound palette was broadening further. "Love Remember Me" reaches for the emotional grandeur of the previous album. "He's a Bum" playfully takes a jab at his fun-loving persona, and "Constant Companion" is filled with possibilities, with its Caribbean feel and horn arrangement.
But most of the songs have that demo quality, recorded late at night, as Wilson would work basically by himself, adding instruments to the mix as was his wont.
"Everything that I am or will ever be is in the music. If you want to know me, just listen," he said. It's just too bad that he isn't around to create more of it.