Review Summary: First they were The Pendletones. Then The Beach Boys. Then American Band. And here, they sound like rock's touring McDonald's. That is not the compliment.1 of 2 thought this review was well written
The Beach Boys are one of my TOP 5 the most favorite bands. No one band like them had it all and then lost it all, and after that regained it. No one like them felt the pain because audience wanted to hear a decade or two old surf and car numbers, not their new songs. They have been battling various addictions, ego clashes, own demons, crazy psychiatrists and simply bad luck.
The first half of 1970s was not very good to The Beach Boys. Their post "Pet Sounds" masterpiece, "Sunflower" sank without a trace, a great but not Beach Boys-like "Surf's Up" climbed up to Billboard Top 30, "Carl And Passions - So Tough" did Top 50, and last of them, "Holland" (released in 1973) managed to crack at Top 40. Although considerable, all these successes looked pale, especially compared to the first half of 1960s. They were constantly touring, and successfully mixing new, more obscure songs and the old hits.
In 1974, Capitol Records released a compilation of their the most popular hits called "Endless Summer" and two their songs appeared on "American Graffiti" soundtrack. Magazine "Rolling Stone" voted them Band of The Year, although The Beach Boys did not released new LP. The Beach Boys nostalgia was so big that some band members asked themselves: "Why do we have to bother to do new albums at all?" The truth was cruel: Nostalgia made the money, not their new music.
But they signed a contract and their label wanted an album. There were a couple of problems: First, Brian Wilson was not very well. He was overweight, had problems with alcohol and drugs. Brian Wilson's mental state was, to be polite, questionable. Second: Brian Wilson allegedly smoked 80 or more cigarettes per day. That damaged his voice. He couldn't sing the way he had sung ten years earlier. And third: the band wasn't unified about how the new record should sound like. Mike and Alan wanted to revisit their surf and car songs, while Dennis and Carl Wilson wanted contemporary sound. Two years passed without any progress being made.
For warming up, Brian did some covers along with the group, and then everyone crossed their fingers that Brian would write and produce some good new songs. He came with couple of new ones, none of them too memorable. Nevertheless, the pressure from the label was up, it took already too long time, and they wanted to release something, no matter how good. So The Beach Boys released an album called "15 Big Ones", consisted mainly of covers and couple of originals.
"15 Big Ones" offers everything that had not been related to The Beach Boys up to 1976. First, there is bad singing, especially by Brian and Dennis, second, lack of inspiration, and third, really trying to sound cool, but they sound like middle aged men, desperately looking for plastic surgery.
Their previous cover album, "Party!", offered different point of view, and although the singing and playing were raw, it was funny and interesting, because of special energy and chemistry (I'm not thinking about drugs). "15 Big Ones" failed to fulfill that criteria. It is lame, pointless and dispassionate album meant to satisfy nostalgia hunters and people who heard "Help Me Rhonda" but not for "Pet Sounds". Singing is amateurish, workmanlike, and special chemistry that makes a group bigger than the sum of its parts is absent. They are trying to sound trendy so much.
Things they did with eyes closed years ago, on "15 Big Ones" they are doing with incredible amount of pain. First single, Chuck Berry cover "Rock and Roll Music" is The Beach Boys on autopilot. There are only sparks of inspiration and sense: "It's OK", "Had To Phone Ya", "Back Home", "Just Once In My Life". "Susie Cincinnati" and "Everyone's In Love With You" are okay B-sides for some singles, but not good enough for the album.
What is more frustrating, I believe they had an album worth of songs, much better than these, Dennis Wilson's songs "(Wouldn't It Be Nice) To Live Again", "I've Got A Friend", "San Miguel", "4th of July" and then unreleased "River Song", along with Brian's then unreleased and/or incomplete "Sherry Says That She Needs Me", "Good Timin'", "Good Time", "Can't Wait Too Long" and maybe "Loop De Loop" would have been much better choice for the album of the band nicknamed American Band.