Review Summary: Brian Wilson said it loud: "I am nerd and not so proud"
It is widely known that Brian Wilson found his inspiration in Beatles' album «Rubber Soul» and then Beatles found inspiration for «Revolver» and «Sgt. Pepper» in «Pet Sounds». But I think that the Beatles songs that should be compared with «Pet Sounds» are «Help!», «You've Got To Hide Your Love Away», and «Strawberry Fields Forever» because of their perspective of deeply insecure, maybe alienated and/or helpless young man.
Although Brian Wilson was often compared with Paul McCartney (they have been friends, born in two day difference, both bass players and so on) Brian's character is much more Lennon than McCartney in terms of vulnerability expressed in conventional pop song – in one moment it can be horrifyingly open and personal, in other moments incredibly accessible and catchy. Brian didn't have Lennon's arrogance and anger, but also Lennon never recorded so open and direct album without expressing cynicism, black humor, and accusing other people for his personal (bad) state (check out «Imagine», for every «Jealous Guy» there are «How Do You Sleep» and «Crippled Inside»). For example, Lennon would sing: «I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man.» and compare this to Brian's: «I know perfectly well I'm not well I should be.».
There are two big influences on Brian's writing and production: Phil Spector's Wall of sound, and confessional folk songs like Bob Dylan's «It Ain't Me Babe». Brian took the best from both genres: production techniques from Spector, and vulnerability and raw emotion from folk. The most succesful single from Pet Sounds was «Sloop John B.», an old folk standard, but so creatively covered that it sounded like Brian Wilson-penned song. The eldest Wilson's sonic vision was enough wide to spot then-upcoming psychedelia, and seamlessly incorporate odd sounds and exotic instruments (bicycle bells, Coca cola bottles, Theremin) to the album.
It is usual to talk about «Pet Sounds» as Brian Wilson solo record. But the man who mainly wrote the words is Tony Asher, Brian's collaborator. He had really noticed Brian's state of mind.
The album begins in very familiar way: «Wouldn't It Be Nice», maybe the best all-time opener: an up tempo, attention grabbing song written and executed in well known Beach Boys manner, but at the same making space for some complex arrangements.
Track two, a ballad, «You Still Believe in Me», a beautiful, but more bitter than sweet song suggest something changed in Brian's mind. It is not soundtrack for every party, it is not ballad that every guy would grab a girl and dance, holding her very closely, it is more something you might listen to after arguing with your partner. The similar song, but with equally devastating effect is "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" - especially the line "Let's not think about tomorrow." There are couple of paradoxal things, for example, a song called "Here Today". It is song sung by an ex-lover, to her new found one (she left him for that guy), and songs is unusually cheerful.
It is not surprise that other Boys were, having heard "Pet Sounds" at least confused. Mike Love said: "Don't f*ck with formula." It is not pleasant thing to listen to "Pet Sounds" all the time. It is harrowing. It is so open and intense that it hurts. Many artists can achieve intensity like this, but mostly using some dissonant tones, aggressive rhythms and sounds, some ear shredding vocals, using f-words, apocalyptic pictures and so on. Brian managed to achieve without all these "auxiliary" tools.
The main thing, for Brian, he was not so much in love with his partner, how much is scared of being alone. Yes, I am talking about «God Only Knows», the most characteristic «Pet Sounds» song. Overall theme for «Pet Sounds» is love, but love as the only thing that could stop sliding into depression, love as addiction thing. There is moment in «I Know There's an Answer», when Brian sings «I know there's an answer, but I have to find it by myself» and then, tempo changes, the mood changes, the next few bars are confuse, like question mark: "Do I really have to find it by myself"".
And theremin part on «I Just Wasn't Made For These Times» is the most dramatic part of the album, to me it is really personal sound, like some ambulance sound: «Something's really wrong with Brian», it is not art anymore, it is the real life, desperate lyrics aside.
All along the way I forgot to mention Carl Wilson's most beautiful vocals on "God Only Knows", ultimate production (again by Brian Wilson), beautifully lush but never sickly orchestration, great singing and really bloody awful cover.
«Pet Sounds» filled the gap between 50s school of music and ambitious art rock albums like «The Doors» or «Velvet Underground and Nico». It managed to connect the old rock and roll tradition with progressive tendencies. It is miracle how otherwise perky and bubblegum music can sound so serious, open and complex. All in all, perfect musical description of growing up, with all hopes and fears along the way (but mainly fears).