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Brian Wilson revisits Pet Sounds and other teenage symphonies to God


"Often imitated, never duplicated." If ever there was a yardstick to measure artistic accomplishment, this old adage would serve quite capably. When considering the musical legacy of the Beach Boys' creative leader Brian Wilson, there's really no escaping the fact that his collected oeuvre casts a mighty long shadow. Does he deserve to be called a "genius?" Considering the devaluation that term has suffered in recent years (Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan geniuses? Come on!), I hesitate. Still, Pet Sounds, arguably Wilson's finest achievement, certainly feels touched by genius. And there's simply no denying its influential legacy. By any account, 1966 was a watershed year for rock's burgeoning ambitions. The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds formed one corner of that year's holy album triumvirate (Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and the Beatles' Revolver being the others). These albums served notice that from then on pop music was to be taken seriously, no longer "high art" music's redheaded stepchild. Of the three, though, Pet Sounds stands the tallest. Wilson's nimble and intricate compositions strike a delicate balance between cerebral tone poems and emotional confessionals. The album's thematic touchstones -- lost innocence, longing and confusion -- luxuriate in the richly textured music, carefully mingling raw feeling and deliberate composition. The melodic "cherry-on-top" are those inimitable, soaring Beach Boys vocal harmonies, sounding alternately celebratory and melancholic.

Though subsequent years of mental illness, drug abuse, band infighting and tabloid histrionics have tarnished the Beach Boys reputation, time has not blunted Pet Sounds' enduring appeal. It has been examined, psychoanalyzed and musically dissected (after all, how many other LPs have been exploded into an entire box set of alternative takes?), yet remains undeniably compelling. And now, nearly 35 years after its release, Pet Sounds' composer Brian Wilson brings the album back to life with a national tour (coming to Chastain Park Amphitheater, Sunday, July 30). Accompanied by a full-scale orchestra, Wilson recreates his opus live on stage.

Pet Sounds -- forever couched in a never-neverland of delicate musical splendor, emotionally frozen between adolescent angst and adult concerns -- seems less a work of genius and more a construction of pure instinctual beauty. But then again, isn't that a hallmark of any great work of art?

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