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Pet Sounds
By Zack Taylor
January 12, 2005
Rating: 10.0

"Rubber Soul really blew my mind," Brian Wilson opined in 1965. Deeply impressed by the absence of filler and sustained mood of the American version of the Beatles' first masterpiece, the head Beach Boy vowed to top it with "a whole album of good songs." 

Despite the likes of Mike Love chiding him not to "fuck with the formula," Brian had steadily evolved from writing the sun-surf anthems that ruled early 60s radio.   Emotionally fragile, he had quit touring to devote all his time in the studio to take on the mighty Lennon-McCartney-Martin troika. At that time, Brian was the only true artiste - writer, singer, arranger, and producer - in pop music.  With the Boys on the road, he enlisted the hottest session players in LA, the Wrecking Crew, to perform his new Beatle-busting opus.     

Near single-handedly, 23-year-old Brian just about did it, creating arguably the greatest album in rock history.  Some contend Pet Sounds  isn’t rock and roll at all, much less a classic.  But for your humble reviewer, for whom music borders on obsession, this album is brilliant like none other.  It's as different from guitar-based rock as from those vapid surf anthems that pigeonholed the Beach Boys into a cliché they could never shake.

I could review Pet Sounds track-by-track, or note that it took 32 takes to complete just the backing vocals to "Wouldn’t It Be Nice" to Brian’s satisfaction, but that would miss the point.  The beauty of Pet Sounds is the album as a whole, the relationship of the melodies to the lyrical exploration of the emotional vicissitudes of romance.  The tracks all employ stunning vocal harmonies over an unusual array of instruments, some exotic for the medium, arranged to evoke a sad, spiritual search for inner peace.  Who hasn’t felt sometime that "I got brains, but they ain’t doing me no good." 

"God Only Knows" is rightly praised as among the most beautiful songs ever, and "Sloop John B," while not fitting thematically, features such stunning vocals and lyrical bass line, it stands tall in its surroundings.  Space limitations prevent me from going on in praise of the other songs on this record.

Without the support of the group and unhinged by drugs, Brian couldn’t sustain this intensity, and succumbed to insecurity and mental illness soon after.  But not before creating this infinitely moving window into his gifted, troubled soul. Pet Sounds is not really a Beach Boys album. It's Brian Wilson's artistic statement to the world, as significant to popular music as the best of Van Gogh or a Monet is to painting.

To listen to some soundclips from Pet Sounds or to purchase it, click on: Pet Sounds (Bonus Tracks)

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