Review Summary: They are The Beach Boys, we expected more! Love is from Venus, Dennis from Mars, Brian from Neptune, Carl's from L.A... something for everyone...
In 1972, it was really frustrating to be part of The Beach Boys. Everything you do is compared to the past glories, you are mainly recognized as a spent force, and you are barely 30 years old. Of course, you are part of history of popular music, but the main ingredient, but the guy who did the biggest part of the job, Brian Wilson and his singing, songwriting and production genius is absent.
In 1971, The Beach Boys released their most experimental record to date (sorry folks, but "Pet Sounds" is not that experimental and "Smile" was not released at all till 2004) called "Surf's Up". They sang about the planet, water, ecology, mysticism, politics, society and so on. Guided by their then manager, Jack Rieley, they went even further. I never thought I'd listen to The Beach Boys song about TM and enjoy (I am talking about "All This Is That", and the other The Beach Boys songs about TM are pedestrian). The same thing about "Marcella" (the song about the masseuse/allegedly prostitute).
Not to forget, there was some personal changes. Bruce Johnston quietly left the band, and two great musicians from South Africa, Ricky Fataar (a drummer and keyboardist, later achieved fame as being one of the The Rutles) and Blondie Chaplin (a brilliant singer) jumped in. It is clearly audible, that the album contains some of the best drumming ever heard on The Beach Boys record, and their already excellent singing further improved. Also, Brian's baby brothers, Carl and Dennis became good producers and songwriters. Mike Love and Alan Jardine had some good songs in the can, too. Even they managed to find two Brian's previously unreleased tunes.
This album should be called "Four Way Street". There is no cohesion or common thread. The whole album sounds like a compilation, free CD, usually given as part of the music magazines. Two songs by Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, sounded like outtakes from "The Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys", an album by an excellent British blues rock band called Traffic. Those two songs are not bad but The Beach Boys album is wrong place for them. Jardine, Carl and Love's song "All This Is That" is really nice one (and with "Cuddle Up" the only one that sound like The Beach Boys), but their other song, piano led gospel "He Came Down" sounds unfinished. Dennis Wilson's two songs are completely from different planet, they sound like he was recording with Scott Walker. And Brian's songs are heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones, especially "You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone". Brilliant tempo changes, propulsive drums, Carl's vocal buried in the mix, pedal steel guitars make a perfect hit single for the Boys. But it just didn't sell and it didn't chart at all. Their next single, well sung, complex yet accessible country rock tune "Marcella" rose to the number 99. Pretty sad, because that recording is better than almost anything from The Eagles' first LP, released a month later. And I am still waiting for Mick and Keith to cover "Marcella".
Here are only four first-class songs: "You Need a Mess of Help To Stand Alone", "Marcella", "All This Is That", and "Cuddle Up". The latter two not only steal the show, but probably the only ones you can feel the the air around the instruments. Both of them are quiet piano based ballads, they sneak to the listeners' ears and stay there for a long time. Also they are married with soulful lead vocals from Carl and Dennis. "Cuddle Up" is epic Dennis Wilson's song about devotion, open and heartfelt, the missing link between "Pet Sounds" and his widely acclaimed solo record "Pacific Ocean Blue".
All in all, "Carl and The Passions - So Tough" is not bad The Beach Boys album, it is just a bad compilation of the good songs.