The Love You Album
"If Mars had life on it
I might find my wife on it"
-Brian Wilson "Solar System"
The album was called The Beach Boys Love You!, but for many people it is a case of "love it or hate it!." A million miles away from the surf music that popularized the Beach Boys, it is also the same distance away from the high gloss production and sensitivity of Pet Sounds.
I think the album is best understood in the context of Brian Wilson in 1977. Going through intensive therapy, with a marriage that was falling apart and not so far from middle age, the album is a call for intimacy from a man feeling the sands of time moving on and working against him. You can hear that call for intimacy in just about every song in the album, from Let Us Go On This Way to Honkin' Down The Highway to The Night Was So Young, even though that almost desperate feeling is sometimes clouded in humor. The situations in the song may sometimes seem teenage, but this is really the feelings of a man well past those years yearning for the love and affection he may have felt back then.
Love You! is for me a development in the life cycle that begun with the realization from Today that "love was more than a game." This develops into full-blown insecurity and deep hopes and fears on Pet Sounds, and an exploration of wider themes on Smile before we see some sort of domestic bliss and inner peace attained on Friends. By Love You!, this domestic bliss had been long blown apart and we find again a search for love, sometimes expressed a lot less subtly than on the earlier records. We may have come full circle in the late 90s with a return to some form of contentment indicated by tracks like Everything I Need and what is promised on the Imagination album.
The less subtle themes are thus complemented by the production, which is primitive and sometimes even incomplete. But if one listens past that, we find that Brian's compositional skills are intact, and most of the tunes are very strong. The highlight must be The Night Was So Young, one of Brian's best-realized songs ever, but there is much else of interest, even in the silliness of something like Ding Dang.
What makes the album even more poignant in the context of the tragedy of the losses of Carl and Dennis, is that this is the closest we have to a Wilson Brothers album. According to Brad Elliot's discography, just about all the instrumentation was done by Brian, Carl and Dennis. In addition, much of the vocal work features Brian, Carl and Dennis, including I'll Bet He's Nice, which features sections sung by each of the three Wilsons.
Love You! isn't Pet Sounds, and it isn't as good. That much is obvious, but why expect Brian to repeat the greatest album ever. Sequels are never as good as the original, and often don't require much creativity. But in the context of understanding the musical genius of Brian Wilson and the gifts of all the Beach Boys, this is a great album.