Pe(rfec)t Sounds – Dave’s Review

Brian Wilson’s troubles during and after Pet Sounds are well documented, and the album beautifully expresses these. He is lost, confused, and a little bit scared. He feels out of place (I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times), misses the comfort and familiarity of home (‘Home, let me go home, I wanna go home’ Sloop John B) and is acting out of character (That’s Not Me). It seems his thoughts are haunting him, echoed in the ghostly singing of You Still Believe In Me and the eerie percussion of Caroline, No.

The lyrics, written mostly by Wilson and Tony Asher, are direct and honest (‘I may not always love you’ God Only Knows). Wilson’s deepest emotions are laid bare for all to see. Relationships are a big worry, with the exhilaration of new relationships turning quickly to pain (‘Love is here today and it’s gone tomorrow’ Here Today). There is a stark contrast between the juvenile optimism of the record’s opener Wouldn’t It Be Nice to the final track Caroline, No (‘Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow?’). The beautiful singing, especially the higher notes reached by Brian and Carl Wilson, melts your heart.

Scattered with familiar, yet out of context sounds, such as bicycle bells, horns, barking and a train, there is a sense of disorientation, reflecting the confusion in the lyrics. The percussion is uneasy too: sometimes delicate; sometimes banging; sometimes not there at all. As well as the unconventional sounds, a wide range of instruments is used – with everything from a ukulele to an electrotheremin to an empty water bottle. These combine in wonderful arrangements to create the ‘pet sounds’ of the title. The two instrumental tracks show these off to great effect, with Let’s Go Away For Awhile drifting us away into a beautiful escape. The harmonies sang by the band are the greatest instruments of them all, and feature throughout the record.

Whereas last week’s album had two stand-out tracks, accompanied by a selection of good songs, every track on this record is amazing in its own right. It’s impossible to choose a favourite. The songs all fit together, sharing musical and lyrical themes, and the album flows perfectly. In its writing, recording and production, the record is innovative and pushed the boundaries of music. Brian Wilson set out to write the greatest album ever, and he succeeded with Pet Sounds.


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3 Responses to Pe(rfec)t Sounds – Dave’s Review

  1. Fran says:

    I think we’re with pretty much agreed this week! One thing I have noticed about your recent reviews though, is that you’re interpreting the lyrics sung or written by the artists as very literally referring to their personal state. The themes and emotions you mention in your first paragraph definitely permeate the album, and they may well reflect how Brian Wilson felt when he was writing it, but I think it is also possible (and I think it happens) for someone to write or sing about something (and do it very well) that is not necessarily their own experience. Would you agree with me, or would you argue that to communicate these emotions properly you would have to have experienced them?

    For example, last week you wrote things like “these are women who have been hurt” about the Supremes. Do you mean that as literally as you write it? I think the songs are definitely about women who have been hurt, but I wouldn’t assume that the Supremes have been through those emotions themselves, I think they are just good enough singers/actresses to be able to emphesise with those emotions and communicate them to the listener (especially as the Supremes didn’t write those songs themselves).

    I was just wondering where you stand on this?

  2. Dave says:

    I wrote a reply but its disappeared. I’ll write it again tomorrow.

    • Dave says:

      Well, both.

      I think the Supremes, as you said, hadn’t been through all the emotion, especially as they didn’t write the songs themselves. But they feel it and their powerful singing communicates this to the listener. So I didn’t mean that one literally.

      With the Beach Boys album, I think Brian Wilson is going through these emotions. They are feelings of worry and confusion, which we all have – I know I do. With all the drugs he was taking at the time, these emotions would have been exaggerated. I watched a programme on BBC3 the other day about ‘the truth about drugs’ and that mentioned the paranoia you can experience when smoking weed, especially skunk. And because he’s going through these emotions, he is able to write about them in a really powerful way.

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