Review Summary: First great album by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Side One is fast and carefree, side 2 is still water that runs very deep. Groundbreaking pop with no other peer except The Beatles.
Way to the top can be painful, but maintaining popularity and artistic integrity can be even harder. During first half of 1960s The Beach Boys were very often releasing singles and LPs, they were touring as they were chased by police, and all in all had very intensive life. The most of the pressure was on Brian Wilson, but by the end of the 1964, no one had paid attention to it. Until then, in December 1964, Brian had nervous breakdown. He was only 22 year old, and responsible for the whole family, cousin and a friend. He also had to come with dozen self written and self produced originals, maybe delicately sung as well with his gentle tenor or falsetto, at least a few times a year. And no one knew how long would surf and car fad was going to last. He quit touring and focused on songwriting and production. And that was maybe forced but wise decision. He had more time to finish production, he could also hear what was going on, listen some records and learn studio tricks, mostly Phil Spector's. He also knew he couldn't write and sing songs about careless teenage pleasures forever.
"Today!" seems to be a happy compromise. It is released as LP with two sides. Side One, or fast side, comes with songs executed in well known style. All of them are excellent performances done in the manner of truly professionals. Many of them ("Do You Wanna Dance?", "Dance Dance Dance", "When I Grow Up", "Help Me Ronda") became often played numbers of their concerts as well as indispensable parts of "best of" compilations. It is cheerful, feel good pop music. It has riffs, beautiful harmonies, singing, production, and everything else that great pop song should have. There is no wasted note. OK, "Help Me Ronda" (without H) is late bettered on single release, but even here, with harmonica solo, is enough good. Although looking and sounding still fun-and-the-sun, there are clear traces of introspection and importance of feelings: check the titles "Don't Hurt My Little Sister", "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)", and "Good To My Baby".
And Side Two is, to be honest, "Pet Sounds" foreplay. Spoken word section and well chosen but not so inspired cover "I'm So Young" aside, all four ballads are deep, heartfelt and more bitter than sweet. And I got a feeling that they are not singing but crying. Not surprisingly, none of these ballads became a radio hit. "Fat" bass lines, one of "Pet Sounds" trademarks, are clearly audible and beautiful as well as orchestration. Brian Wilson finally told us his secret: "I am not all time smiling Superman musical genius, I am just like you". Luckily, he was still strong enough to manage his insecurities and bring us some more great music before long, slow, drug-fueled fade away (or was it long slow burn out?).
"Today" begins with a question: "Do You Wanna Dance?" and ends with "In the Back Of My Mind I Still Have My Fears". But message of the record is: okay, we have some demons, but don't worry, everything is gonna be fine. There are few albums that can make you feel happy, carefree and cheerful, and then make you cry. And spoken word section is here to prevent us from crying after "In The Back Of My Mind".