The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Jul 24, 2017
85
Throughout the course of music history, love has definitely cemented itself as one of the most (if not the most) commonly-explored themes for musicians and composers of all sorts. As a matter of fact, such a discussion has been mainly focused on popular music's considerably recent canon, but such a deterministic vision ultimately fails to encapsulate a big portion of highly-poetic musical escapades that have been developed around the theme (what about the unforgettable symphonies from Rachmaninov? Handel's plain simple Ombra mai fù, from Serse or even O Mio Babbino Caro, by Puccini? Not to mention Chopin's stunning Nocturnes, by the way). The truth is, love has been constantly (and greatly) portrayed by erudite composers countless years before Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra's elegant intimacy. It certainly makes up for one of the most invitive topics in music, for it is also one of the human-condition's most vital and plural parts, ranging from its more visceral, uncontrollable facets to the perennial, unshakable solidness of fraternal laces.

Brian Wilson's greatest artistic feat is one about love, in fact. Pet Sounds was conceived in a rather turbulent, anxious period of his life, as The Beach Boys seemed to inherit this indirect rivalling with The Beatles, while, seeing that the british boys had taken a left-turn in their career with the brilliant Rubber Soul, the competition became even more intense, at least for Wilson himself.

While The Beatles seemed to enjoy a much more disruptive sort of freedom with their new record, Wilson observed that The Beach Boys wouldn't have the same wit to explore such a broad, expansive transformation, at least in terms of lyrical content. Hell, the group was on their commercial peak, having built their name and fame upon delightful stories about innocence, nostalgia and enjoying a damn good vibe at the beach. The only possible play for Wilson, at that time, was to expand on the sound they were already well-known for.

Either way, the recording and producing of Pet Sounds highlighted a rather manic point not only in the band's career, but on music history itself, as Wilson borrowed from the romantic erudite-masters that preceeded him, the power and ambition to take the recurrent themes of The Beach Boys' music to another level. A wider palette of orchestral instrumentation and multi-layered vocal-harmonies were some of the weapons of choice for the endeavour, but Wilson's lone search for aesthetical expansion led him to a huge experimentation process with sounds, from the sampling of bicycle-horns to soda-bottles for percussion to dog-barking, Pet Sounds would display the group's lyrical maturation about teenage-love, only not told by the same means as before.

Thus was born the beautiful, incredibly ambitious classic we all know and love today; one of the first concept-albums in popular music history, and a grand statement that completely cemented the status of the group as one of the most influential musical acts ever, its own particular, inventive way of telling a story having forever changed the way other all-time greats would do, years later.

Of course, at least a little portion of the Pet Sounds' tracklisting sounds incredibly dated today, with both post-production trickery and smooth easy-going arrangement incursions feeling a tad conventional and obsolete these days - clearly owing much to the way society and media have changed throughout the years, casting the record's immense relevancy to a very specific time and place, despite the way Wilson's genius addition of subjectivity act in the reading of these songs.

Either way, these chronological (and social) issues also increment the context of the record's narrative about debuting in love in a time where most of the young people (to whom the band owes a major part of the record's imagery) were struggling to enjoy life and love to the fullest (a concept that would be torn apart just a few years later, with the solidification of the counterculture in the USA, hence the dating of the album playing such a big role in analyzing its context). In that sense, Pet Sounds is at the same time a charming, cherisheable work that receives both pros and cons for its own reductible, very specific look on such a wide and incredibly-appealing theme, as mentioned before.

There is no denying the power contained in amazing pop songs like "Wouldn't it Be Nice", "God Only Knows", "Sloop John B", "I Know There's an Answer", "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and so on (with the second half being way more impressive than the first), where Wilson's considerably self-centered and ambitious nature actually surfaces in a rather lovely, sensible fashion, as these tunes still stand tall as some of the greatest, most relatable sing-along songs in the popular music canon. While the overall concept loses any sense of urgency today due to the forementioned factors, there is no denying the incredible quality in Wilson's songwriting chops (despite being in a very anxious and troubled mental-state at the time), as we keep being enchanted and lifted in the air, more than fifty years later, by his thoughtful and bright writings on youthful love. Pet Sounds still remains a fine example of how the rainbow comes after the storm.
12 Comments
Jul 25, 2017
This record [and band] took me well over a decade to appreciate. I must have visited the album 3 or 4 times over that period, relying upon poor music sensibilities [Prog Rock snobbery] rather than give the record a proper listen. It wasn't until the Internet became somewhat disruptive of my decidedly limiting music attitude and opened me to the world of music lovers whom impressed me with their remarkable knowledge of modern rock/pop and a diversity in their collecting. I caught the Pop bug and
Jul 25, 2017
and soon came to realize a level of sophistication in musicality that I had denied existed. It was then that I decided to invest a moment or two to give ‘Pet Sounds’ a good listen. I can still recall the moment when I was sitting in the living room of my Kauai home, the CD playing and how suddenly this profound and achingly beautiful music began to fill my ears. Truly a moment to cherish. Your review is a solid testament to the quality of the band’s achievement as much as it is a tribute to the
Jul 25, 2017
quality of the band’s achievement as much as it is a tribute to the genius that is Brian Wilson. Thanks again for sharing.
Jul 25, 2017
Going to go off topic here: what is the origin of your profile pic, EMR?

It also took a while for me to grow on Pet Sounds, but once it grew on me, I could not stop listening to this album. I still can't stop listening to this album. For me, Pet Sounds is a perfect album. There are albums that I prefer to Pet Sounds, but still though, it is just the perfect pop album. An absolute masterpiece.
Jul 25, 2017
The pic is from Béla Tarr's 1994 film Sátántangó.
Jul 25, 2017
Yes, Pet Sounds took a really, really long time to sort of reach me. As I mentioned in the review, a bulk of the material presented here reads as a very outdated look into love and human relationship, and while I did enjoy some of its tracklisting (mostly the specific tracks I pointed in the review), it required quite the dedication to really blossom with me. I still think it isn't that consistent of a record in practical means, but it is an undeniably great statement for music,
Jul 25, 2017
[...] so I nurture an utmost respect for it and consider it a masterpiece, nonetheless.
Jul 25, 2017
what are the tracks that sound to you the most outdated?
Jul 25, 2017
I'd say the ones that carry out the narrative in a more direct way, for instace (the album's opener is a fine example, even though it has such amazing verses and is so beautifully written, it is impossible to overlook), for they try to represent the teenage love mindset through that very specific looking glass, which, like I said before, ends up sounding quite anachronistic if read today. Also, those short instrumentals do pale a bit for how limited the production work sounds (obviously).
Jul 25, 2017
You are such a terrific writer, EMR. Quite an inspiration to boot.
Jul 25, 2017
Off topic also... Can you share any insight on Brazilian Prog Rock bands of the 70s? I'm curious about A Barca do Sol, O Terço, Moto Perpétuo, Módulo 1000, Secos & Molhados, Recordando o Vale das Maçãs, Som Imaginário. Ciao, brudda
Jul 25, 2017
I kind of agree with you with the lyrics being a bit dated and all that, but I just simply love those instrumentals. For as limited as they can be when we are talking about the production, they do bring some variety to the album, which is great. Still through, great review on the album. Easily your best review yet, in my opinion.
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