Review Summary: Beach Boys in 1968. Then, summer was there and the time was right for fighting in the street. What could The poor Boys do, except to sing in the rock 'n' roll band?
After the fall from grace in 1967, visiting India, dabbling in TM, and all craziness behind them, Beach Boys retreated in the studio, or to be more precise, in Brian Wilson's house and were planing to win back their audience which was rapidly shrieking. Mike, Bruce, Al, Carl and Dennis considered it would be easier to install studio in his house than bring Brian to studio. Brian wasn't interested in record making. Why should he? He just had other things on mind.
«Friends» is not «Pet Sounds», to be sure. Brian wasn't so motivated to compete with The Beatles. There is no competition, either with anyone, anywhere. There is no dramatic orchestra, teenage symphonies were past, as well as serious confessional lyrics, creative neurosis, drive for perfection, and wall of sound. There is «less is more» production philosophy (album is slightly underproduced), charming tricks, for example tuba on «Wake The World», and, most of all, having fun in the best possible sense. I believe that recording of «Friends» was fun.
Album begins with intro «Meant For You», a nice invocation to what would come: Mike on lead vocals, Brian on back vocals, and some organ. Then there is a title track, a waltz, Top 50 single, decently orchestrated. «Friends» offers three or four waltzes. Also we can hear Brian's sky high falsetto on «Be Here in the Morning» (waltz again), or his indolent bossa nova number «Busy Doin' Nothin'», the title says it all, but the song is great. At the end we can hear dissonant instrumental «Diamond Head»and a song called «Transcedental Meditation». Both songs should have be saved for B-sides of singles because they are not on par with rest of the songs with a general mood, which is lovely, sweet and friendly. They had a couple of other songs to fill in instead of this unappropriate rocking horn fuelled ending, for example, «We're Together Again» (a bonus track on CD), a meditative «A Time To Live In Dreams» (this can be found on «Hawthorne CA» compilation) or «I Went To Sleep» (see 20/20 album).
Brian said that «Friends» is his fave Beach Boys album. In fact, Brian didn't write so much songs those days. The rest of the band would write songs, Brian would come from his room and give them some hooks, advices, and sometimes supplied with his arrangements. Result is very good, only too short and with few fillers.
Although they built a myth about surfing, The Beach Boys, except Dennis didn't surf. In 1968, all of them were married, some of them having kids. They wrote songs about about family life, friends, simple pleasures and domestic bliss the same way they were singing about surfing and girls paradise a few years before. Album was honest, warm, good natured, well sung and arranged (it was their first album in stereo), but as they lived high society life they somehow forgot what was happening outside. The year was 1968. Nobody who bought their previous records was interested in quiet, tranquil songs, or was demoralised by experiments called «Smiley Smile» and «Wild Honey» (the second theory seems to me more accurate). Anyway, The Beach Boys were considered not only as a spent force but also totally out of fashion. Imagine Marie Antoinette recording a family-themed album in the middle of French revolution. I didn't forget that Carl Wilson was conscious objector at the time. But few knew it. If they had written a song about it, maybe they would have sold a few copies more. Being conscious objector was surely very cool in 1968.
The biggest surprise was Dennis Wilson who brought a couple of songs. By then he was thought as the least gifted of all Beach Boys, or to be cruel, he was almost like their Paris Hilton. Very soon his songs would be seen as highlights. His compositional skills were leaping forward rapidly. Here, he offers lovely vignette «Little Bird» and somewhat darker one minute long chant «Be Still».
Sometimes I compare this album with other great flop of 1968, Kinks' «The Kinks Are Village Green Preservation Society». Both records are very far from hippie utopistic world, political messages, prog rock psychedelia and everything that bombastic and revolutionary. They just embrace and celebrate normal, quiet life in suburbs with 2.4 children, in fact something very strange to top lists in those days.