Wrapping up the Family Day festivities with one last album, a bit of a guilty pleasure no less but, hey, since I’ve already whipped out the ‘Pizza and Bongos‘ I may as well go full hog with this last album of the evening, ‘Surf’s Up‘ by The Beach Boys.
First up, for all you immediate naysayers – this album is a psychedelic masterpiece.
The Beach Boys’ post-1966 catalog is littered with albums that barely scraped the charts upon release but matured into solid fan favorites despite – and occasionally, because of – their many and varied eccentricities. ‘Surf’s Up‘ could well be the definitive example, beginning with the cloying ‘Don’t Go Near the Water‘ and ending a bare half-hour later with the baroque majesty of the title track (originally written in 1966).
The album is a virtual laundry list of each uncommon intricacy that made the Beach Boys’ forgotten decade such a bittersweet thrill – the fluffy yet endearing pop (od)ditties of Brian Wilson, quasi-mystical white-boy soul from brother Carl, and the downright laughable songwriting on tracks charting Mike Love’s devotion to Buddhism and Al Jardine’s social/environmental concerns.
Those songs are enjoyable enough, but the last three tracks are what make this album such a masterpiece. The first, ‘A Day in the Life of a Tree‘, is simultaneously one of Brian’s most deeply touching and bizarre compositions; he is the narrator and object of the song (though not the vocalist; co-writer Jack Rieley lends a hand), lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere. The second, ‘‘Til I Die‘, isn’t the love song the title suggests; it’s a haunting, fatalistic piece of pop surrealism that appeared to signal Brian’s retirement from active life. The album closer, ‘Surf’s Up‘, is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the ‘SMiLE‘ period. Carl gives a soulful performance despite the surreal wordplay, and Brian’s coda is one of the most stirring moments in his catalog. Wrapped up in a mess of contradictions, this album defined the Beach Boys’ tumultuous career better than any other album.
Besides, it’s a Beach boys album with surfing in the title, has has what appears to be a dead guy on the back of a cowering horse on the front cover (actually based on the sculpture “End of the Trail” by James Earle Fraser). If that doesn’t scream “this is fucked up!” then I don’t know what does!