The History of the Albums – n°300 – On the occasion of this symbolic figure, I would like to thank all the people who have supported me so far, be it those who have always been there, those who supported me at the beginning and today. By the way, I would also like to thank you all for the 1400'! I wanted to tell you how grateful I am, especially since History of the Albums is the project I am most proud of. It is a project that I have been thinking about for many years and that I was able to launch thanks to AOTY and your support. Love.
War was declared. Only a victor could end it. Fortunately I am not talking about a bloody war in its atrocity, I am of course referring to the artistic war of the albums that Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, will launch in response to the revolutionary Rubber Soul of the Beatles. Maybe it was purely egocentric or maybe it was just a way to challenge oneself, which in any case will be a service to the history of music. This historical passage is probably one of the most significant for both the album format and the musical creativity of the artists. Based on the facts, we can clearly say that Rubber Soul sounded like a revolution but it would not have been as strong without Brian Wilson's response with Pet Sounds. Although the answer is still a mystery, I doubt that when the Beatles released Rubber Soul they had the ambition to make the best album of all time and to establish themselves as the greatest band in the world. Conversely, Brian Wilson fell so much in admiration of the concept and work of Rubber Soul that he made no secret of his ambition to make Pet Sounds "the best album of all time". It turns out that for some people, he has succeeded. In my opinion, he comes very close to it, but not only is this not true, but he will not win this artistic war since the Beatles' ultimate response with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) will dethrone him. After this is an opinion based on the balance between objectivity and my subjectivity, because let's be honest, Pet Sounds is so great, so grandiose, that it all comes down to a few details. If we take a look in the rear-view mirror, the Beach Boys were at the time the only American band that in 1964/1965 resisted the artistic domination and popularity of the British Invasion bands (not to mention the Byrds). What even extraordinary, it is that they succeeded by their musical innovations to launch new American groups thanks to their influence in particular a great part of the new Californian scene thanks to the Sunshine Pop and Baroque Pop (The Mamas & The Papas, The Associations etc...). While he carried the america on their shoulders (almost) all alone, all this was amplified in 1965 when Brian Wilson left the band and the stage to devote himself solely to studio work and creation. In fact, like the other stars of the time, he simply followed (even if in his own way and it was already in his blood) this craze that the most talented artists had for being interested in studio techniques and art above all. It is for these reasons and decisions that the Beach Boys first succeeded in offering us The Beach Boys Today, a classic that shows the evolution of the "band" in a concrete way. And to go even further, far from the "distance of Brian Wilson", the Beach Boys have made history as one of the most important bands, even though they would have remained a simple popular band of the sixties. At the same time, the contribution of the other Beach Boys on Pet Sounds is so minimal that this one is considered a solo work by Brian Wilson.
You can now say that you know everything about the context and clearly I don't think I'm going to teach you much new in my first paragraph, so I'm now going to go into the analysis of this masterpiece. First of all it is important to know that the whole of Pet Sounds was recorded and realized in 4 months, from January 1966 to April 1966, which is already quite simply incredible in view of the final performance. Since Rubber Soul was the reference that can be compared as the cornerstone of cause and effect, I will remind you what this revolution brought. That is to say, an album thought from beginning to end as a whole work, without filling in, as important as a single (whereas at the time albums were there as a secondary and commercial object) and which emphasized the concept of homogeneity, coherence and the culmination of innovations and a musical style. Although one may subjectively or objectively prefer the content of Rubber Soul, it is indisputable however to say that Pet Sound pushes the limits of the possible by giving both instrumentation and production a whole new dimension, while actually creating the real first Pop Rock concept album. In other words, conceptually, spiritually and instrumentally, Pet Sounds had reached a level never before achieved. Never before had a Pop Rock album gone beyond boundaries, not hesitating to explore and merge totally different worlds like classical music, avant-garde movements, jazz etc... Even if the first bases of musical themes and styles were thought from the album The Beach Boys Today, the divide was so radical and too sophisticated that Pet Sound had a mixed start both in commercial sales and with music critics. At the same time, it's understandable, it was becoming such a UFO when it came out that it took a while to figure it out. In fact, when you think about it, it's easier today to see it in retrospect as a major album in history, but imagine the slap in the face they got at the time, or on the contrary, the critics who didn't understand it.
Concerning the reflection of Pet Sounds, only the song Sloop John B (which by the way is the only reworked traditional cover) has been thought beforehand of the idea to start doing Pet Sounds. While he had moved with his wife to Beverly Hills and the other Beach Boys were busy most of the time on different international tours, Brian Wilson called upon a lyricist Tony Asher whom he had met a few months before to help him write the album. Tony Asher's contribution and assistance remains a vital part of the writing process for Pet Sounds, both lyrically and instrumentally. With the exception of Carl Wilson's minimal contribution to the instrumentation, the rest of the Beach Boys came back to record only vocal performances. In fact, it was very difficult for them to adapt to the new technical directions, while feeling left out and worried about the future of the Beach Boys. In reality, it was mainly classical orchestra musicians and engineers/producers close to Brian Wilson who instrumentalized the album. Brian Wilson had become more than an artist, he had become a kind of conductor, composer and artistic director who built and directed his troops through multiple recording sessions to give birth to Pet Sounds. The harmonies, timbres, textures, technical and material innovations that will be the ingredients of Pet Sounds' success will allow the album's content and production concept to exceed all expectations ever experienced by a popular band/artist of the time. Wilson surpassed the work of Frank Sinatra and Phil Spector, his main influence, and the result of Pet Sounds is the result of the genius of Wilson and his production team, who were able to articulate and organize an anthem-like work that complemented each other insanely. And I won't go into the details of all the innovations, whatever the material or for the work of composition and harmonies, which would be like speaking a language you don't understand. Categorized more globally (and rightly so) as a Baroque Pop album, because of its rapprochement with Baroque classical music, its instrumentation and not the abandonment of the "rock n roll" sound, Pet Sounds is one of the first albums to introduce the Progressive Pop style, because the work of structures and melodies complement atypical and out of the ordinary work of a conventional song. Brian Wilson will also incorporate psychedelic tones to bring additional depth to the final result. If we also take into account the fusion of several distinct musical genres, it is for this reason that Pet Sounds sounds like a groundbreaking album that defines a whole new vision both instrumentally and in production.
When you live the Pet Sounds experience, the progressive and symphonic effect that each song provides and the sequence of the songs, you feel like you're immersed in a completely new sound journey, where it's hard to distinguish between the different genres/styles, without being able to put a precise label on it. The Pet Sounds masterpiece starts with Wouldn't It Be Nice, one of the greatest songs of all time. Besides it's not an insignificant opening choice because not only does this wonderful song plunge you directly into the adventure, but on top of that it's the perfect summary of what awaits you on Pet Sounds. It's a love song, which I've been calling since I was a kid a "song of happiness" where nothing serious can happen, it's the absolute enjoyment of the mix of Baroque Pop/Progressive Pop and Psychedelic Pop, articulated around unbeatable melodies and phenomenal twists and turns in the "bridges". It is moreover the spiritual parent of Good Vibration that will come after Pet Sounds. What is bluffing is that when we listen to it at first sight, we have the impression that it is the most " simple " and " efficient " song of Pet Sounds, while the instrumentalization is innovative and complex. Articulated around an angelic harpsichord and stratospheric orchestration, You Still Believe In Me is the example of a Chamber Pop song in all its splendor, where the work of writing and narration precisely shows the enormous evolution of Brian Wilson's writing compared to the Today album. Apart from the introduction and Sloop John B, which share more of the soul of a "traditional" pop rock song, the A side of Pet Sounds is very much based on the progressive and atmospheric effect, combining chamber pop aesthetics with Jazz and Easy Listening. The work of the chords, tonalities and the complexity of the harmonies proposed throughout the A side is sensational, never before a popular band had succeeded in accomplishing a work as technical as rich. It's simply incredible how the writing, which is so brilliant, really goes on the same level as the rendering, gives the impression of being suspended in the air to be as light as a cloud. There are very few musical experiences as powerful and successful as Pet Sounds, and here I'm only talking about the A side, which is able to give you those feelings and emotions. The almost Vocal Jazz performance on Don't Talk, the paralyzing instrumentation of Le'ts Go Away For Awhile... I'm at a loss for words.
Of course, Slood John B's rehabilitation is masterful, surpassing even the original version without any contestation. It is the perfect example of Beach Boys "pre-Pet Sounds" type songs, reached and transformed into its paroxysmal sound. It really feels like, even though the theme has nothing to do with having a dose of nostalgia and reliving the Beach Boys from years before with their surfboards and American cars. The B side starts with God Only Knows, one of the most beautiful Baroque Pop songs ever written. The vocals that intertwine with the orchestration is divinely mastered, very little unequalled in the history of music afterwards. One feels all the work of the different textures, and the dimensional depths that Pet Sounds offers in its excellence. It can be compared to Caroline No, the hallucinating outroduction. Globally speaking, the B side offers a more rhythmic and "aesthetically" joyful content in its first layer. The difference is striking, as if, as the adventure unfolds, the experience begins to burn with a potential epic end. There's even this second instrumental, also called Pet Sounds, where we find a very warm and mysterious form of Exotica/Easy Listening. However, instead of having a fireworks finale, Pet Sounds ends with one of the most poignant Caroline No. song. A new surprise effect that will consolidate the fact that this album is out of the ordinary and absolutely unpredictable, even when you know it by heart. I remember many years ago when I really discovered Pet Sounds and when I understood it well enough to realize how fantastic this album is from beginning to end, without a single speck of dust that would spoil anything. It's obvious that his influence is considerable and still palpable today. Already there wouldn't have been a Beatles' Sgt Peppers in response, but more globally in the idea of making a concept album, in the writing and in the production. It's a gift from heaven.