posted on September 19, 2008 19:00
A review of the album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' by Dennis Wilson
Review Snapshot: Dennis Wilson was the handsome Beach Boy - he had the musical smarts but they were sidelined till 1977 with the release of "Pacific Ocean Blue", his debut album. It's hit and miss but the hits really hit.
The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10
1977 - the worst thing about being 17 back then was hearing Janis Ian’s “at 17”. I hated this little whinge of a song but I suffered it because every girl I met loved it. What a musical time though – mid May, it seemed John Peel was playing Barclay John Harvest and Hatfield and the North - by July of 1977 he was bona fide punk. One Friday night in August he played “Pretty Vacant”- a real grassy-knoll / where-were-you-when-you-it heard moment.
It was around that time Dennis Wilson’s debut “Pacific Ocean Blue” was released. Up to that point Dennis was to the Beach Boys what Larry was and is to U2 – the drummer, of course, but more importantly in marketing terms, girl bait, he was the band’s chick factor. He looked the glamorous side of dissipated - way too cool for skool, the type of fella you’d drink and toke with but you’d keep him away from your girlfriend, your sister, even your mother. Dennis walked on the edge of volcanoes – on one hand he was the one responsible for the band’s surfer sound, he was a genuine surfer dude. On the other he introduced the band to Charlie Manson.
Dennis’s was a mixed legacy but it is put in better relief by the remodelled, remixed and re-released “Pacific Ocean Blue“. As is the way with CD re re releases there is a bonus disc and here the bonus CD contains demos and nearly completed tracks from “Bambu”, the proposed follow up to “Pacific Ocean Blue”. It’s a dud, Dennis’ voice was narcotically scorched and the songs are half cooked. Truly a case of catarrh overcoming catharsis.
The bonus disc is a distraction from the real business here and the “Pacific Ocean Blue” disc has its own bonus tracks. It’s a highly uneven collection – some genuine peaks, a couple of really ropey cuts and a few might have beens. There are bona fide duds on this album – “Friday night” is bad Pink Floyd, “What’s wrong” is a bad Mike Love Boys type stomper – imagine Billy Joel’s “it’s still rock and roll to me” but saggier and even more complacent. “You and I”, on the other hand, is straightforward AOR mid seventies cheese.
It’s not all bad though - “Mexico”, the last of the bonus tracks – is a heartbreaker. It’s an instrumental piece that you’d imagine hearing it as the credits rolled at the end of “Heaven’s Gate”, gorgeous from its first wistful note to its last, evocative and sweet, a hidden classic. It alone justifies this album’s reissue and it’s almost as good as “River Song”, the album’s opener. Written by Dennis and Carl Wilson, this is a truly stunning piece of music – Dennis sounds parched and resigned but the piano introduction, the beefy string and brass and the absolutely soaring choral work lifts this track on to a heavenly scale. “Moonshine”, a ballad, is equally as good - no one alive could spend time around Brian Wilson as Dennis did and not soak up some of his musicianship and nous but “Moonshine” has a desperation and depth of despair about it that the Beach Boys could never capture. It’s classic break up material –“you said you loved me / but in another way”. “Moonshine” fades with a harmonic orchestral loop that could play till the day you die. “Rainbows” is a jaunty little thing too, all sunshine and banjos. “Only with you” is also featured on the bonus tracks – Dennis wrote this for the Beach Boys’ equally patchy “Holland”, where Carl took the lead vocals. “Holland’s take on “Only with you” is soft, almost coy, but Dennis’s vocals make it more substantial, more tangible, more honest.
Dennis Wilson was a wasted talent in more ways than one and “Pacific Ocean Blue” is more a series of inspired musical moments than a coherent album.
One for the curious.