L.A. (Light Album)
Recorded: July - November 1978
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Bruce Beatlefan (September 5, 2009)
The Beach Boys climb from the depths of the mid-1970's mediocrities (Fifteen Big Ones, Love You, and M.I.U. Album) to assemble their best album of new material since 1973's Holland.
L.A. (Light Album) is dominated by the low-key, gentler sort of melodies which were prominent in the earlier albums Friends and Sunflower. In L.A., however, these melodies have a new pervasive mood of melancholy that was not present in the previous albums. The unity of the Beach Boys, both as a group and in their personal lives, was at a very low ebb during the late 1970's as the Mike Love/Alan Jardine/Bruce Johnston faction was severely alienated from the Wilson Brothers faction, even using separate planes for touring. Brian Wilson's on-again off-again status was once again in the 'off' mode. Dennis Wilson and Mike Love often had to be restrained from coming to blows on stage, and each of the three Wilson brothers were enduring the termination of marriages.
In spite of this...or maybe because of this...the L.A. album succeeds with this new introspective sort of sound. After their non-involvement in the M.I.U. Album, Dennis and Carl Wilson come back strong, writing and singing the bulk of the material. Dennis, establishing himself as a respected songwriter from his superb solo album Pacific Ocean Blue contributes the moody "Love Surrounds Me" and the magnificent "Baby Blue". Carl shows strong form with "Angel Come Home" and "South of the Border", revealing the stresses in his life, along with the lovely and quietly upbeat "Full Sail".
The other four members each contribute a single track, with diverging results: Brian Wilson's "Good Timing" is a legitimate Beach Boys classic leading off the album; Alan Jardine's "Lady Lynda" was a surprise top ten hit in England, using the Beach Boys harmonies and a J.S. Bach melody; Mike Love's "Sumahama" is a sensitive story attempting a Japanese sound. The group combines its forces for a rousing but curious cover of the old folk song "Shortnin' Bread".
Overwhelming the rest of these tracks is perhaps the most bizarre tangent the Beach Boys have ever attempted, Bruce Johnston's turning an old album cut "Here Comes the Night" into a disco extravaganza. This track, over ten minutes long, comprises thirty percent of the album's time, and has similarly distorted most listeners' concept of this album, being a severe departure from the sensitive and melancholy moods of the remaining songs. I'll leave it up to you if this works for against your attitude toward L.A., but for me it remains a strong album nevertheless.
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