Image: Omnivore Recordings

The coming of age album everyone should hear: ‘Pet Sounds’ at 55

The Beach Boys are one of the most famous groups to characterise classic rock. Their addictive melodies, wholesome harmonies, and Californian swagger proved infectious throughout their career. Pet Sounds was a change in direction, not only for the fivesome, but for pop music. This LP was one of the first in legitimising the pop album as an artistic project. Although it would take the release of Sgt. Pepper for such a sentiment to be fully realised, Pet Sounds proves to be an exceptional artistic statement.

The LP mainly deals with the theme of love. For instance, the commitment aspect of it is demonstrated in the opener ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. The track is one of the best album openers ever produced. Brian Wilson’s boyish vocals exemplify the innocence present, while Mike Love’s baritone vocals at the bridge nicely balance the song, with his sincere tone complimenting the youthful optimism and exuberance exhibited in Wilson’s. This melodious number superbly sets the standard for the project.

The simple word choices work a treat too, making the message unmistakeable and augmenting the purity in the sentiment too

With other tracks like ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)’, The Beach Boys delve into the security found in love. The psych-tinged, sombre instrumental wonderfully backdrops Wilson’s vulnerable lyrics, which have hints of yearning and solitude thanks to the potent plaintiveness of the melodies. When Wilson sings: “Being here with you feels so right/We could live forever tonight/Let’s not think about tomorrow”, the warmth is apparent and true. The simple word choices work a treat too, making the message unmistakeable and augmenting the purity in the sentiment too.

Of course, the typical heartbreak narratives regarding the experience are covered in songs like the ironically triumphant ‘Here Today’, or the wholesomely compassionate ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’. However, ‘God Only Knows’ would be the unadulterated love song of the LP on which Carl Wilson’s delicate vocals are splendid, and he, along with the lyrics, sell the earnestness of this track. The first verse epitomises this, as the speaker does make concessions (“I may not always love you”) but ultimately promises to love the person forever (“I’ll make you so sure about it”), thus portraying love as an exercise of human will rather than the conventional, trite, omnipotent force. The refrain “God only knows what I’d be without you” is incredibly iconic and the song develops really well too, with the instrumental increasing momentum until the delightful harmonies at the outro. This is the best song on the album.

The LP explores themes of alienation as well. ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ does this, and is my favourite on the album. Brian Wilson beautifully depicts the anguish one experiences when feeling isolated from his peers, or even society. Structured terrifically, the pre-chorus and chorus act as scaffolding for the concluding refrain: “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times”. The psychedelic vocal arrangements at the chorus effectively illustrate the confusion, suffocation and pain of being an outsider and essentially living in your own head, expertly conveying an aspect of the adolescent experience. The lyric: “people I know don’t wanna be where I’m at!” exemplifies this, and its nice usage in Mad Men makes the song even more lovely in my opinion.

Meanwhile ‘I Know There’s an Answer’ considers the staple of every adolescent experience – drugs. A track shrouded in controversy, it does well in illustrating the potential source of one’s drug dependency. This is particularly apt given that Brian Wilson’s eventual mental health deterioration was exacerbated by his excessive drug usage. Love and Al Jardine do well in presenting the appeal of psychedelics in their ability to alter one’s worldview and approach to life.

The Wrecking Crew deserve a special mention too, as their crisp, textured, and kaleidoscopic instrumentals excellently sell the feelings found in this tracklist. Their boldness and competence in executing Brian Wilson’s vision provides each song with a dynamic foundation tailored to their respective tracks.

Overall, Pet Sounds is an impeccable depiction of one’s coming of age; the themes of innocence, youth, love, and isolation makes this album evergreen. It’s flawless in its execution, cohesively, thematically and musically. An LP that everyone should listen to given it’s relatable, replayable, and inimitable.


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