Pacific Ocean Blue
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Tue July 1, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Thirty-one years after it originally was issued and — save for a brief emergence on CD in 1991 — 25 years after it disappeared from store shelves, Dennis Wilson’s magnificent solo debut Pacific Ocean Blue finally has been given a long overdue sonic refurbishing. Of course, there will be those who will miss the pops and clicks of their worn-out LPs, many of whom subsequently will cling to the belief that the outing’s digital resurrection lacks the same level of warmth as its vinyl counterpart. Nevertheless, augmented as it is with an abundance of previously unreleased material, much of which was plucked from the abandoned sessions for Wilson’s never-completed sophomore set Bambu, it’s safe to say that fans of The Beach Boys haven’t had this much about which to cheer since Brian Wilson finally put the finishing touches upon Smile in 2004.
Naturally, a touch of revisionist history has surrounded the expanded, new version of Pacific Ocean Blue. It is, of course, an excellent outing, but it is not on par with either Pet Sounds or Smile. It does make the case, however, not only that Dennis Wilson’s artistic vision rivaled that of his elder brother Brian but also that, with time, he very well might have refined his approach enough to make an album that deserved to be held in the same high regard. Lord knows, there are plenty of inspired moments flitting through Pacific Ocean Blue — and Bambu, for that matter — to have inspired countless artists as well as to have developed a sturdy, cult-like following for the endeavor. Like a diamond in the rough, Wilson’s genius undeniably is present, and more often than not, it sparkles quite brightly amidst its sometimes unfocused surroundings.
Wilson, of course, had hinted at his talent by contributing songs such as Forever to The Beach Boys’ canon — in fact, he was instrumental in pushing the band forward in Brian’s absence — but Pacific Ocean Blue was the album that made many everyone finally sit up and pay attention. Just as Pet Sounds and Smile were written, at least in part, as responses to the popular music of their day — The Beach Boys’ give-and-take with The Beatles is cited most often as an influence — Pacific Ocean Blue seems to answer the call of the marketplace during the 1970s. There are an almost absurd number of ideas drifting through the set’s construction. As its lush arrangements dart from place to place, an array of thoughts and musical themes are strung together in ways that are so unexpected that they ought not to work but frequently do.
There are touches of Pink Floyd tucked inside Friday Night, while the gospel-soul waves that wash over River Song clearly owe a debt to the grand orchestrations employed by Elton John. There are funky, jazz-fed horn arrangements attached to Dreamer and intimate folk refrains that have been affixed to the eulogy Farewell My Friend, a song that incidentally also sounds like the missing link that has fueled Wilco’s career. With The Beatles long since disbanded, Wilson opted instead to provide a response to Paul McCartney’s pursuits with Wings, the textures of which infiltrate tracks like You and I and the set’s pseudo title tune Pacific Ocean Blues. Everything, of course, is tied together with the same sort of lush, symphonic compositional style for which his brother Brian more typically was recognized. Rather than the playful giddiness of Smile, however, a melancholy air hovers over Pacific Ocean Blue, tugging at Wilson’s meditations on love and loss until the plunge down into the darkness of his soul, thereby making Pet Sounds feel like a positively perky affair.
Whether Bambu would have surpassed Pacific Ocean Blue or not is a mystery that no one will ever be able to answer. In its current incarnation, it is, of course, an inferior album, one that is filled with an abundance of ideas that never quite coalesce. Based on the tracks that have been compiled from the unfinished outing, it is apparent that Wilson had been pushing himself farther afield from his work with The Beach Boys. Cuts such as Under the Moonlight and I Love You revel in the rock and soul arrangements that filled John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges. Elsewhere, the instrumental Common sounds as if Carole King had opted to tackle Chicago’s Colour My World, while Are You Real finds the prog-rock ground the separates Pink Floyd from Electric Light Orchestra.
Not surprisingly, the biggest problem with Bambu is that it is more akin to a collection of tracks than an actual album. Wilson’s blurred vision left the set not only feeling scattered but also its concepts sounding fragmented and disorganized. There are some truly wonderful moments that surface throughout the endeavor — most notably, during the haunting, Band-soaked ballad It’s Not Too Late — that indicate that Wilson very well might have turned Bambu — or its successor — into something even more ambitious and magnificent than Pacific Ocean Blue. Although the collection was doomed long before Wilson died in 1983, his drowning inevitably meant that he never would craft a proper follow-up to his solo debut. Pacific Ocean Blue may be an imperfect endeavor, but it also is all that Wilson left behind. Consequently, it provides the only true glimpse into his artistic genius, and it serves as a sad reminder of the talent that was lost well before its time.
Of Further Interest...
Pacific Ocean Blue: Legacy Edition is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box