I’ve never got on with The Beach Boys Pet Sounds. I tried again tonight, as I’ve tried a good few times since buying this in ’96. I know, I know, that puts me in a little club of one and I’m not being a little iconoclast for the sake of it, this time. I genuinely just don’t get it. I appreciate that for some folks out there this is something akin to deciding oxygen is a bit passé, I know how much this LP has been feted, praised and revered and I can hear and understand how it slots into the pop continuum, but it ain’t me babe…
I’m not totally Beach Boys averse, I like all their knock-off Chuck Berry summery hits but my interest, with the exception of ‘Good Vibrations’*, wanes pretty fast the further away from the beach they strayed. By the time Pet Sounds was written the Beach Boys were a really interesting proposition, the band toured his material, Brian Wilson stayed home and wrote to all intents and purposes (barely) tolerated as an idiot savant golden goose by them all. God only knows** what the band thought when they returned to base in 1966 wanting more good-time-teeny-dance-fodder to be presented with Pet Sounds, and its collection of mostly downbeat ruminations on love and proper relationships. Who’d want to dance to that?
For once I’m with the majority here, ignoring my disinclination to side with the, at best, emotionally abusive guys in the band I can see where they were coming from. Yes I understand that we have the fault-line between pop music as worthwhile art and pop music as disposable fun running through the whole episode, but on this evidence alone – sign me up for the fun. I can hear the craft and cleverness in the poppy ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Sloop John B’, but there is something in this sound I don’t like. There is an overly trebley quality here that makes the album sound an awful lot like a child’s music box produced by Phil Spector.
I have often been struck by the way in which animals who don’t have a predator/prey, competitive or co-operative relationship react to each other with a puzzled disinterest – a cat and a hedgehog, to take an example from last week in my garden. that’s exactly the way I feel about Pet Sounds, it’s there, it’s fine, I can see what it is but it has no bearing on my musical life – I don’t want to eat it, mate with it or mark it with my distinctive musk.
Paul McCartney, no stranger to penning a diverting melody or two, I know, wishes he had written ‘God Only Knows’ and described it as a complete song. It’s fine, but I don’t hear anything in it that moves me. Paul’s wrong, I’m right^. True story.
One final gripe I have with Pet Sounds is the album cover, Paul McCartney (him again) told Brian Wilson that they really should have taken more care with their LP covers. Not a trivial matter, as all manner of obsessives of my acquaintance will testify to and again it is that transition between LPs as disposable consumables to a lasting cultural object. Going to San Diego Zoo to take cover pictures was a pretty weird thing to do anyway, but the photo is Godawful, the colour’s all wrong and a bit murky; who put the big white goat front and centre? that’s just bad composition; sticking five men in a paddock of goats is a bit of an odd one too – especially when four of them exude a simmering resentment about the whole thing and Brian, seemingly simultaneously half-oblivious and half-spooked by his, rather frisky goat – but by that point I fear that Brian had begun to see and react to the dark goats of the soul that no-one else could see.
Wouldn’t it be nice to like Pet Sounds as much as everyone else seems to, still that’s not me. But if you do, then please tell me what it is I can’t hear in this perennial poll topper, I’d appreciate that.
P.S: Everyone, even if they feel as I do about the whole phenomenon, should read Nick Kent’s masterful piece ‘The Last Beach Movie Revisited’ in his collection The Dark Stuff.
*simply an astonishing and sublime piece of music by anyone’s standards.
**see what I did? #Welshcomicgenius.
^still, what does he know about partying? or anything else!