An Artist and A Machine

So, The Beach Boys. 2012. Reunion.

Problematic, cynical and shrink wrapped with a patchy album.

Many have compared the new album to Today or Summer Days… But it’s not really close. either in artistic endeavour or the charm of (most) of the filler fluff.

It’s very much of its time (hello autotune) and out of time (welcome back to the Mike-Love-good-time-automatic-lyrical-memory-generator). Mike seems to be continuing to try to write or put his stamp on the songs or presentation so they “connect” with people in some over-generalised way. As always, the results are just odd.

Yet somehow, as with so many albums that contain elements of Brian Wilson, the album digs in and elicits an emotional response.

The ending suite is a strange beast. It’s perhaps comparable (well if you squint a bit!) with “Curtain” (the last case of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot). That book was written 30 years before her death and placed in a safe, to publish when she was (nearly) gone. Most of Brian’s closing suite was written a while ago for the (supposed) purpose of ending the last ever Beach Boys album. It is a lovely section of music and seems to be a decent point to end things. Goodbye…

But then you find that it’s not an ending. More albums could follow. More songs, more LOVE. You realise what a strange bag the Beach Boys are. They’re full of long-standing creative contradictions and often lumbered with lowest-level common denominator Mike Love-isms and bullshit. But yet they still have that heart of pure elegiac magic.

Love me do

The Mike-a-tola has won (and lost) innumerable Beach Boy law suits over the years. The upshot being that very many Beach Boys songs now have “Mike Love” added to the credits (like a garish “price reduced” sticker slapped over the Brian Wilson full price original).

Without spending too much time on all the ins-and-outs of this, it is obvious from the majority of cases that Mike considers small arrangement suggestions and lyrical tweaking to deserve a full co-credit. Hmmm. Think about all the bands you know and look at their song writing credits. There are very few democratic credits out there for the entire band. That drum pattern has to be written and affects the song. That guitar lick and that harmony. Whose idea was that? Everyone must surely sue? (And yes, Mike WAS diddled out of the co-authorship of California Girls and other hits back in the day (by Murry, Brian’s father, if you believe the stories) which has doubtless festered and created the monster that we have seen practically ever since).

All you need is Love

Over the years, it’s obvious that Mike has regarded commercial success as the “only” success. It’s been his biggest bragging right as well as his biggest fear (when artistic endeavour might put the hits in jeopardy). Imagine being an artist dealing with anyone who spouts that you should not “**** with the formula” while being bullied to give up your outside productions. You’d get all passive aggressive too. Smiley-smile indeed. If you were unfortunate enough to discover cocaine AND have a mental illness then you’re way out of luck.

More than anything, the mid 60’s Beach Boys (sans Brian) were touring musicians making a living from Brian’s ideas and productions. They had provided the amazing vocals (once they learned the arrangements) and even got to add to the backing tracks. They would certainly add ideas too, but listen to most of those prime-time sessions and they are not really helping with the writing, production or arrangement. They are just trying to hit the notes. Or goofing around. (If I had really “written” a song, I would at least want to have some opinions at the recording?)

But the touring Beach Boys would fly around the world as the public face (the marketing department, if you will) getting all the screaming girls, meeting all the hip new bands and doing important press interviews. It seemed like a good trade off.

It was only years later that the Mike-ster seemingly wanted to be retrospectively recognised for writing the success. “Look at me. I’m the one who added that “x” factor to make them hits. I’m the leader on the road. Look at me.” (also, give me some money).

Carry That Weight

Remember too (particularly when you see all the ridiculous “drug casualty” post SMiLE stories), that Brian first had a nervous breakdown in 1964 and was eventually checked in (possibly at his own volition) to a psychiatric hospital in 1968 to treat his mental illness. He was self-medicating to cope with his illness, the obvious stress within the band and possibly to help deal with long standing problems relating to his childhood abuse.

This is a mental illness that is pretty much referred to directly in the hit single “Break Away” and was brought to a head by the thought of caring for and disciplining his own recently born first child. (Ironically, Break Away was written WITH his father, showing how complex the Wilson family relationships were if you scratch the surface. Everything is nuanced and conflicted).

Carl may have been relieved that the “problem” was been treated, but do you think deep down some of the band were relieved that they may still get some more hit songs? Were they relieved that THEY had a future, rather than actually treating the illness over the long term?  I’m sure that the stigma that many people had relating to mental illness back then (people like Mike Love?) would really muddy the waters. Very sad.

Love is all around

For many years it seemed that record companies prevented the Mike-a-doobie-doo from realising his true vision for the Beach Boys (by demanding Brian be involved in this-or-that album). He finally managed to reach his goal when various political and social shit-fits allowed him to create the Beach Boys as “America’s band” and they embraced a warped return to some hellish lyrical mid-teen netherworld for the rest of time. Where Brian’s music has often inhabited this uncertain realm of near adulthood and emotional fragility, Mike, as always, takes that teenage lyrical and presentational sledgehammer… and keeps on hitting.

You get the feeling that eventually, Love may try for a new craze of Corpse Surfin’… one last chance to cruise the “chicks” and drive the “scene” in his open top Coffin, lying in state while his rotting body spits out auto tuned lines guaranteed to manipulate, I mean “connect” with his audience.

Mike’s algorithms for finding and singing about stuff that people “want” were way ahead of their time. If Google search wrote lyrics about having “a nice time on a beach (and leering at girls)” or “driving my nice car (and leering at girls)”, it’s likely the results would be the same as the guff that Mike Love has always “written”.

In fact, if Mike Love had actually thought about it, he could have invented a lyrical location based Google search and AdWords sevice in 1964 and got paid for his fantastically accurate tailored results. Maybe he did. Sue Google, Mike…

And this is why the new album is so utterly bizarre. It’s like the entire history (good, bad and indifferent) of the Beach Boys played all at once.

“America’s band” alongside, Love-you and Summer Days. 

 

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