When people think of the great lost Beach Boys record, they think Smile, Brian Wilson’s thwarted masterpiece. But Brian’s underrated younger brother, Dennis, may hold as legitimate a claim. The troubled drummer was only 39 when he died in a 1983 drunken drowning accident. He never got to show the world what he was capable of as a composer. Few Beach Boys fans knew he had such skills until the 1977 release of Pacific Ocean Blue. Wilson’s debut—the first solo release from a Beach Boy—was a commercial success at the time but has been out of print ever since a brief appearance on CD in 1991.
A reissue arrives as a lovely reminder of Wilson’s talent and heart, and illustrates his remarkably distinct creative vision. Paced by Wilson’s wry, rollicking piano and the gritty yearning in his voice, the song cycle is a meditation: on midlife passages, the natural beauty of California, love, faith and rock & roll. The freshly remastered edition does justice to Wilson’s multitrack imagination. It’s stunning to hear how much sound he fits within these two- and three-minute tracks, which often bloom into symphonic passion and resolve into pop-gospel epiphanies.
It’s not a perfect album: Occasionally, as on “Time,” the late-’70s El Lay session vibe veers into Yacht Rock bombast. (To be fair, he did live on a boat.) But the music generates such warmth and generosity, it’s easy to forgive.
The two-disc set also includes an hour’s worth of material Wilson recorded for Bambu, the unfinished follow-up to Blue. The composite, while not as consistent, has ample moments of meditative and exuberant SoCal pop glory. Our headphones are still glued to our ears.