Review Summary: Nice cover, guys.
As the 1960s were nearing an end, the relationship between The Beach Boys and Capitol Records had become a mere shell of itself. Once the hottest band on the label, Capitol made the Boys the top priority, which in turn allowed for heavily promoted records and gave the ever-reclusive Brian Wilson the power to pursue projects he’d never be able to otherwise. Yet this was no longer the case – several of the band’s singles had underperformed (“The Little Girl I Once Knew”, “Heroes and Villains”, “Darlin’”) and scrapped projects served to further damage the partnership between the band and the label (Lei’d in Hawaii
). Following the release and subsequent failure of their latest effort 20/20
, the Boys filed a $2 mil. lawsuit against Capitol, unpaid royalties and production fees being a focal point. Prior to this suit, the band had attempted to terminate their contract in 1967, and the suit in 1969 served as a breaking point for both sides. Although they owed one final album, several attempts at piecing together a cohesive work was a doomed effort due to the label’s rejection of the finished product, so the UK-only release Live in London
would end up being the severing of the ties for The Beach Boys. Come the expiration of the band’s contract, the band was now without royalties due to the deletion of their Capitol catalogue, had lost the rights to their own songs in an unwarranted sale of Sea of Tunes by Murry Wilson, and was surviving solely on money made from constant touring. Following their signing with Warner/Reprise toward the end of 1969, the band’s future was still uncertain thanks in no part to the label’s rejection of two proposed albums by the Boys simply because of their perceived lack of a potential single and overall strength. This hard-headed label interference lead to something that would become the band’s greatest record since Pet Sounds
Several delays and revisions past, Sunflower
was the successful attempt at presenting the band as they were in 1970, complete with what Warner/Reprise hoped would become the band’s next big hit (“Add Some Music to Your Day”). While the record was hailed as the band’s best effort in years, it failed to meet neither the band nor the label’s expectations – peaking at a lowly 151 on the charts. To say Sunflower
flopped is an understatement – it performed catastrophically at a crucial time in the band’s career and only cemented the Boys’ image as “unhip” in a generation concerned with the war overseas. Unhip maybe, but Sunflower
featured a wealth of magnificent pop songs that effectively showcased the band’s abilities equally and helped put away any conception that Brian Wilson was
The Beach Boys. Earlier albums such as Friends
began the trend of easing the burden Wilson had to bear, but it’s here that the band finally manages to work together rather than individually. That’s what makes Sunflower
so compelling when comparing it to works like Pet Sounds
– each and every member has something to say, whereas in the past, it felt as if Wilson (and Mike Love, to a lesser extent) were using the Boys as his mouthpiece due to his inability (and unwillingness) to go solo.
In the scheme of things, it’s a wonder how “Add Some Music” was pegged as the big hit-single-to-be when it ended up being one of the lesser tunes. As with most of the Boys’ songs, it has incredible vocal work, but is bogged down by overly saccharine lyricism and a lightweight theme of music’s presence in our lives (yes, even in the dentist’s chair). When comparing it to the hazy daydream of “All I Wanna Do”, Dennis Wilson’s forlorn ballad “Forever”, or even to the brief mini-masterpiece “This Whole World”, “Add Some Music” truly just doesn’t cut it. Other contributions, such as Bruce Johnston’s sugary sweet “Deidre” and the Bee-Gees-like “Tears in the Morning” offer intriguing compositions that showcased Johnston’s knack for accessible, yet gripping songwriting; while Dennis’ “Slip On Through” and “It’s About Time” gave the Boys a much more energetic “rock” sound that still managed to make use of their outstanding vocal compatibilities. Other members, such as Carl Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love, didn’t necessarily play lesser roles in the creation of Sunflower
but in terms of songwriting, they were not as prominent, instead handling more intricate vocal details to the songs. A long-standing pattern since 1967’s recovery lo-fi effort Smiley Smile
, the Boys included yet another Smile
cut, this time being the minimalistic pop work “Cool, Cool Water”, originating from "Love to Say Dada", a fragment from Smile's
elemental suite. Heavily focused on the dynamic between Brian Wilson and Mike Love, the song utilized the band’s harmonic qualities to its most experimental amidst moog synthesizers, piano and a sparsely produced sound. Later selected as the album’s fourth and final single, it’s “Cool, Cool Water” that convinced Warner/Reprise that the Boys were worth the risk in a time where the band’s reputation in America wasn’t all that great.
, like most of The Beach Boys’ efforts following the failure of Smile
, has been greatly underrated due in part to the common misconception that ”Pet Sounds”
is the only Beach Boys record worth seeking out. While a great deal of these latter-day efforts contrast greatly in quality from each other, there’s a solid amount that are
worth the trouble of listening to. And I can absolutely guarantee you, Sunflower
is essential, showing off a band in their prime while simultaneously giving one a glimpse of the potential that they had in 1970.