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Dennis Wilson Remastered: Returning to ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lindsey Buckingham, a member of Fleetwood Mac, once described Dennis Wilson, drummer for the Beach Boys, as halfway to his famous brother, Brian Wilson. “He was crazy just like a lot of other people,” Buckingham said, “but he had a really big heart, and he was the closest thing to Brian [Wilson] there was, too. He was halfway there.” A founding member of the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson is not Brian or Carl, but a drummer, musician and songwriter in his own right.”Pacific Ocean Blue” was his only solo record, originally recorded and released in 1977. Legacy Records, a division of Sony BMG, has released a re-mastered version of “Pacific Ocean Blue” as part of a 2-disc set. The release’s second disc is comprised of Wilson’s additional recordings with Caribou/CBS Records, which would have composed his second solo effort. The release is a fascinating glimpse into the life and art of a virtually forgotten man, overshadowed in music history by his famous siblings and former project.”River Song” opens the album with a vocal style similar to the Beach Boys, but in a way that feels distinct, both lyrically and in scope, from the most famous hits in that band’s recorded past. The experimental sounds of Beach Boys albums like “Pet Sounds” clearly paved the way for Wilson’s work here, but “River Song” helps this album take a new turn. “Pacific Ocean Blue” has elements of seventies folk, funk and beach music, but its occasionally eclectic feel somehow retains a cohesiveness that helps the album feel complete.”What’s Wrong,” the second track, has elements of his previous style, with strains of brass and piano thumping emphatically through the track. That signature vocal sound, that Beach Boys harmony, is hard to escape, but Wilson effectively makes it his own here and elsewhere.”Moonshine” has a quieter start and more melancholy feel. The following track, “Friday Night,” is dark and waning, with a nearly two minute instrumental intro. It shifts in tone from the previous tracks, but in a way that still jives with the rest of “Pacific Ocean Blue.”The vocals on “Dreamer” are grainy and distant, an effect that’s expanded and developed on “Thoughts of You.” The latter track uses electronic effect to its benefit, alternating between the stark piano and Wilson’s gruff, honest vocal style, and a more stylized studio sound. The effect is an intriguing one.The album’s title track, “Pacific Ocean Blue,” is a study in contrasts. The song makes use of blended, harmonic background vocals, an almost funk-style musical arrangement and Wilson’s gruff, almost Loudon Wainwright-esque singing.”Farewell My Friend” plays with background sounds – cooing birds, electronic effects and even the occasional ukulele. Wilson repeats the lines, “Farewell/I want to see you again,” leaving the listener to think they’re hearing a surfer’s funeral dirge. Ironically, it was Dennis’ surfer style that influenced the look and feel of the Beach Boys – of the band’s original members, he was the sole surfer by trade.Other highlights on the first disc include “Tug of Love (Feel the Pull),” “You and I” and “Only with You,” but truthfully the entire album deserves a listen. Its final track, “Mexico,” is a solid cap on an intriguing effort.The second disc, “Bambu,” picks up where “Pacific Ocean Blue” left off and develops it further, and is well deserving of its own review. Briefly, the sweeping anthem “Remember Me,” the gruff stylings of “Wild Situation” and the Randy Newman-like “He’s A Bum” are all excellent. “I Love You” takes a turn for the pseudo-psychedelic in its latter half, and “Constant Companion” is an energetic, brass-laden romp.In the liner notes to “Pacific Ocean Blue,” guitarist and producer Earle Mankey describes recording with Wilson saying, “People would start talking about notes, parts, the melody or the rhythm and [Wilson] would say, ‘I just want the truth.’ That’s all that mattered to him.” For a real sense of Wilson, the man, the artist and admittedly the former Beach Boy, check out “Pacific Ocean Blue