Caribou Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/2005
In the last episode of "Jeff Reviews The Beach Boys," our intrepid heroes were being torn to shreds for their terrible album Smiley Smile, an album that kept me from considering other Beach Boys releases. However, I stepped off that ledge and fell into Sunflower. Not only does this album restore my faith in the Beach Boys, but also my overall opinion of the band has grown stronger.
By 1970, those carefree surfin' days were over for the Wilson brothers. Commercial success was fleeting; Sunflower would peak at #151 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, what the public missed out on was a return to form for The Beach Boys. In fact, one could make the argument that Sunflower and Surf's Up were the last artistically viable albums from the group. That alone makes Sunflower worth a purchase.
From the get-go, Sunflower instantly recalls the glory years of the group. Tight, soaring harmonies ooze from every track on the album. Echoes of the immaculate production of Pet Sounds can be heard. However, the most impressive feature of Sunflower is that it is so strong. Every band member got into the writing process, and Dennis Wilson's or Bruce Johnston's songs hold their own against the contributions of genius Brian Wilson.
The strongest moments reside on the first half of Sunflower. Starting things up is "Slip On Through," one of Dennis Wilson's best Beach Boy efforts. It rocks more than you'd think the Beach Boys were capable of and showcases a strong chorus. However, nothing on the album compares to "This Whole World." It's only about two minutes, but it perfectly encapsulates what Brian Wilson was all about. Striking chord changes, unique production, and one of the best a cappella tags I have ever heard. As the voices of the Beach Boys surround you and fill the room, it is pure transcendence. It is a triumph to music in general and adds to the legend of Brian Wilson.
As I said, Bruce Johnstone contributes some lovely tracks. "Tears In The Morning" has a world-music influence to it with traces of American pop and French love songs; it's all superb. "Our Sweet Love" is Carl Wilson at his best; no one could touch his falsetto, while "Forever" is what Beach Boy fans consider to be Dennis Wilson's "God Only Knows." While not as breathtaking as the former, it is a gorgeous ballad, slipping into a stunning, ethereal refrain. "Add Some Music To Your Day," is probably the best group effort from The Beach Boys. Every member gets to sing lead and it's truly a showcase of the group's enormous vocal talent.
So, is there anything not to like? The last track "Cool Cool Water" is a dud. Fragments of the SMiLE sessions were pieced together to form an ode to the boys' "favorite group of molecules." Vocally it's gorgeous, but it doesn't fit in with the overall sound. "At My Window" is a track I'd love to listen to over and over again, save for the 10-15 second Spanish speaking interval, where some Beach Boy (I think it's Brian) just randomly speaks in Spanish. It is these little quirks the can ruin songs for me. They are wholly unnecessary. Other than that, the song itself is musically sound.
Sunflower makes up for Smiley Smile on some level, which is amazing considering my opinions on that "album." If you think The Beach Boys died in the '60s, think again. They managed to stave off mediocrity for a little while longer, and Sunflower is a testament to that.
|I agree that Sunflower and Surf's Up were good classic Beach Boy albums which are just as listenable today as they were when released, but the band released one more album after that, Holland,which I think is even better.|