It’s extremely difficult to write anything about Pet Sounds, the 1966 Beach Boys album, without being affected by the weight of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson Legend. But I’ll try my best…
For years, the Beach Boys created the most joyful, catchy, and fun songs imaginable. As Brian Wilson’s songwriting acumen grew their songs remained catchy and fun but begin gaining in sonic brilliance and complexity and emotional maturity, to the point that the albums All Summer Long, Today!, and Summer Days are among the finest creations in the history of pop music–catchy, fun, and incredible listening expiences.
With Pet Sounds, the catchy and fun is still there in spots, but it becomes clear that Brian Wilson’s highest purpose for this creation is to attain some higher plain of sonic brilliance and emotional catharsis, and, well, while the music is pretty much all that he desired to attain, something which made the Beach Boys’ music very special has been lost forever. Pet Sounds is a Brian Wilson project from start to finish (the only contributions his bandmates make are in the vocal arrangements), and having the Beach Boys left in the wake doesn’t sit perfectly well with me, nor did it for the other members of the band (Mike Love, who contributed as much to the Beach Boys brand of euphoria as anyone, was very vocal about this loss).
The result is a brilliant album, certainly with some moments of pure Beach Boys joy (“Wouldn’t it Be Nice”, “Sloop John B.”, “I’m Waiting For the Day”), some emotional maturity and heart-wishes from Brian Wilson which are touchingly beautiful (“You Still Believe in Me”, “Here Today”, “Caroline No”), and sonic near-perfection in “Let’s Go Away For While” and “God Only Knows”.
Having said all that, Pet Sounds’s final judgement for me is: I can judge it no higher than the less ambitious but more generous offerings such as “Beach Boys Party” and the aforementioned albums. I hope I don’t have to sit on the hot-seat for daring to give this album fewer than a perfect five stars, but the compromises implicit in Pet Sounds makes it impossible for me to rate it as such. I would recommend that anybody get it…it’s great!