LA (Light Album)
CBS Records, 1979
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/22/2009
There’s an old saying. “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third is a pattern.” L.A. (Light Album) would reflect the second portion of that phrase; signaling that the mistakes and poor quality of M.I.U Album were trends that refused to dissipate with time. While marginally superior to its predecessor, The Beach Boys were clearly running on fumes, content to strike out wildly at the latest musical trends in the hopes of scoring commercial success again.
While M.I.U. Album had seen limited involvement from certain members of the group, LA (Light Album) was the first record for The Beach Boys new label, CBS Records. As such, the previous holdouts returned to the fold, a somewhat disheartening fact considering the quality of the record that ensued.
By this point in time, Brian Wilson clearly had fallen further than ever before, rendered incapable of handling any sort of production duties. His sole original contribution to the record, the minor hit “Good Timin” had been sitting on the shelf since the mid 70s. “Shortnin’ Bread” had become legendary as a song Wilson would lead group sing-along for hours on end, reflecting the mental ills he was suffering from. On one occasion, the punk rocket Iggy Pop would attempt to keep up with Wilson, only to exclaim something along the lines of “That guy is nuts!” It’s presence on LA (Light Album) demonstrates that Wilson had nothing left in the tank at this point in his career.
As Brian was reaching rock bottom, his brother Dennis had come into his own, musically. His solo release Pacific Ocean Blue had garnered critical acclaim, if not commercial. A follow-up record, Bambu was in the pipeline, yet never came to pass. Two songs from that record are included on LA (Light Album), and they are the true highlights of the album. “Love Surrounds Me” and “Baby Blue” showcase a mature songwriter, as well as one who picked up a few tricks from his older sibling. Wilson’s rugged vocals reflect his take-no-prisoners lifestyle, yet there is a tenderness that shines through the smoke. These would be Wilson’s final songs on a Beach Boys record.
The other members of the group gamely attempted to keep up with the Wilsons, only to fall short. “Sumahama” is the Japanese equivalent to “Belles Of Paris” from M.I.U., and somehow manages to be even more stereotypical. “Goin’ South” attempts to evoke the old Beach Boy motif of seeking warmer climate; despite Carl Wilson’s honest vocals the track goes nowhere.
It would be impossible to review this album without speaking of the utter abomination that is the disco remake of “Here Comes The Night.” In what can only be described as a blatant cash grab, The Beach Boys adapted one of their better tracks from Wild Honey to better fit the disco trend which was spreading across America like a plague at the time. Completely out of place, destroying the tone of the album, and just embarrassing in all aspects, no discussion of “Worst Beach Boys Song” should go without a mention of this abomination.
Dennis Wilson singlehandedly kept LA (Light Album) from faltering, but his efforts were not enough to overcome the malaise that had settled upon the Beach Boys. Keeping The Summer Alive became the final nail in the coffin for the band. Dennis Wilson would depart this earth a few years later, with Brian Wilson subsequently also striking off on his own. LA (Light Album) was the last glimmer of a once great American band.