The Beach Boys
The Warmth of the Sun
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2007, Volume 14, #6
Written by John Metzger
Sun June 17, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Over the years, The Beach Boys’ back catalogue has been sliced and diced so many times that it would seem as if Capitol Records already had exhausted its options. Nevertheless, with Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys, which was issued in 2003, the label took one final stab at creating a compilation of the group’s best-known songs. Lo and behold, it finally got it right, too. Composed entirely of Top 40 singles, the outing boasted 30 tunes that spanned The Beach Boys’ storied career.
Because its scope was confined to what would fit onto a single disc, a few key cuts understandably were absent from Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys. This, of course, meant that the release of a follow-up effort was inevitable. Fortunately, as the comprehensive boxed set Good Vibrations made abundantly clear, there is more worthwhile material within The Beach Boys’ canon than its hits. The Warmth of the Sun, the latest retrospective compilation from the group, touches upon the tracks that were missing from its predecessor, but the real story lies with how wonderfully it traces the arc of The Beach Boys’ evolution.
Superficially speaking, The Beach Boys’ earliest songs largely were novelty tunes about cars, girls, the sun, and the sea. At the same time, however, these singles gave the group the room it needed to experiment and grow. The Beach Boys holds the distinction of being the first pop outfit to write its own material and produce its own albums. Peering beneath the surface of its initial endeavors, one can hear the seeds of Brian Wilson’s ambitions beginning to take root within Wendy’s immaculate harmonies, the harp that glides through Catch a Wave, and the precision of the instrumentation on All Summer Long.
Even those who may have looked beyond The Beach Boys’ greatest hits collections in order to delve into the band’s classic endeavor Pet Sounds as well as Wilson’s recently completed Smile are likely to be enlightened by the pleasures that lurk amidst The Warmth of the Sun’s contents. It’s well known that Wilson was utterly infatuated with the work of Phil Spector, and the inclusion of a cover of Then I Kissed Her majestically highlights how he created his own architecture from Spector’s "wall of sound." In a similar fashion, the overt nod to The 4 Seasons that is tucked inside You’re So Good to Me — along with the cover of Why Do Fools Fall in Love — shows that he was as fond of Frankie Valli as he was of The Beatles.
The Warmth of the Sun’s title track was written in response to the assassination of President Kennedy, and just as its introspective melancholia paved the way for Wilson’s later pursuits, its inclusion here provides a clue as to where the compilation’s true heart lies. Rather than the sort of happy-go-lucky frolicking in the ocean’s waves for which The Beach Boys most often is recognized, most of The Warmth of the Sun’s material is bathed in the bittersweet beauty that emanates from its tales of broken hearts, shattered dreams, and lost innocence. The increasingly complex arrangements that were employed by the ensemble — not only on Pet Sounds and Smile, but also on the often overlooked Surf’s Up and Sunflower — went hand-in-hand with its increased focus upon heavier lyrical content. In fact, although the set’s first few cuts — Hawaii, 409, and Little Honda, among them — wouldn’t sound out of place at a backyard barbecue, the bulk of the endeavor is better suited to quiet reflection.
Despite the obvious care that was taken in constructing its flow, The Warmth of the Sun’s one weakness is that its contents still sound as if they were plucked from some other, grander statement. Nevertheless, in taking the unique stance of emphasizing The Beach Boys’ craftsmanship rather than its commercial successes, the compilation effectively makes the case that the endurance of the band’s music had little to do with whether or not its songs landed at the top of the charts. Instead, it was the immense vision and sheer genius of Brian Wilson that not only turned The Beach Boys into a highly influential act but also pushed the boundaries of pop music far beyond what anyone had ever anticipated.
The Warmth of the Sun is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box