Monday, March 23, 2015

The Beach Boys - "Wild Honey" (LP Review)

Like most people, my knowledge of The Beach Boys ceases from about 1967 (resulting from the whole "Smile" / "Smiley Smile" debacle) until their emergence in the 1980s as a nostalgia act.  Doing some detailed reading in their discography reveals they continued to release LPs pretty regularly until about 1980.  The reviews of some of those LPs are pretty good (corresponding to the ascendancy of Carl Wilson within the band's hierarchy): Allmusic gives 1967's "Wild Honey" 4/5 stars, 1968's "Friends" also gets 4/5 stars, 3.5/5 stars for 1969's "20/20", 4.5/5 stars for 1970's "Sunflower" (it also made Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest LPs of All Times"), and finally 4/5 stars for 1971's "Surf's Up".  That's a pretty strong showing for five LPs, with only 1969's "Do It Again" as the only song from this period that most people will recognize. 

So it was with some anticipation that I looked forward to hearing "Wild Honey", which in 2001 was appended to "Smiley Smile" and various contemporary outtakes for a bonus CD.  Had I just received a forgotten gem from this unexplored portion of their discography? 

No.  No, I had not.

I can't speak for the other LPs listed above, but "Wild Honey" is a really bad LP and no amount of nostalgic revisionism can change that.  The title track is mildly interesting, sounding like Stevie Wonder with a theremin, but I think it stands out only because the rest of the soul-inspired songs fall flatter than does "Wild Honey".  "Darlin'" pauses the Stevie Wonder theft long enough to steal from the Four Seasons.  The best two tracks are 1) "Country Air" which although written for this LP would sound at home on "Smile" or "Pet Sounds", and 2) "Mama Says", a reworking of the acapella  break from "Vegetables" (left off "Smiley Smile" but present on "Smile"). 

The double CD is worth getting, but adjust your expectations for "Wild Honey".  The Beach Boys excursion to Motown has as much skill and authenticity as Robert Van Winkle brought to rap some 22 years later... 

Standout songs: "Country Air", "Mama Says"

Songs that appear: "Wild Honey" (live 1972), "Darlin'"

Skip 'em songs: the rest.

Final score: 3/10.