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Pacific Ocean Blue was the first solo album by any Beach Boy. Originally released in 1978 vinyl and on CD in 1991 it was out of print for decades and the only choices if you wanted to hear it were either some kind of illegal download or tracking down a used vinyl or CD copy.
Fortunately Caribou saw sense and put thousands of people out of their misery when they finally reissued it as a 30th Anniversary Legacy Edition in 2008. The reissue brought us the original album remastered along with what was going to be Dennis' second album, the unfinished Bambu.
To understand the music here you have to understand the man. Like big brother Brian Wilson, Dennis was an exceptionally talented songwriter, albeit a late bloomer. For years he was simply considered to be a drummer but the truth was behind the playboy surfer boy image was a composer. He was in his mid 20's before he wrote any songs for The Beach Boys and as he sadly died aged just 39 we never really got as much music from this man as we would have liked. What we do have though is simply awesome. If you want to know Dennis Wilson it's all there in the music. He was a passionate, generous man with deep dark struggles with drink and drugs fighting it out for supremacy with his heart of gold. It all comes through in the music.
Initially when you first see the CD cover it is practically impossible to recognise Dennis as the handsome boy from the Beach Boys. Take a look on youtube at any early Beach Boy live performance and compare young Dennis on the drums to the Dennis here. The changes aren't just external. Dennis was the lead singer on the Beach Boy's cover of Do You Wanna Dance. That voice isn't present here at all. By 1978 Dennis has a rough raspy voice, but he uses it to convey so much emotion you can't help but be touched by it. If great singing is that which communicates what is in the heart then Dennis Wilson was a great singer.
Dennis played the vast majority of the keyboard on this album and contributed to the drumming and plenty of other instruments too.
The overall sound is that of pretty piano melodies with some synth thrown on top along with guitars and brass. There's some degree of variety here but the over all feeling of Pacific Ocean Blue is pretty mellow. There is an underlying sense of sadness, longing and depression. Dennis really puts his heart into this.
The full tracking is;
Cd1 Pacific Ocean Blue plus bonus tracks
Thoughts Of You
You And I
Pacific Ocean Blues
Farewell My Friend
End Of The Road
Tug Of Love
Only With You
Holy Man - Instrumental
CD 2 Bambu
Under The Moonlight
It's Not Too Late
Love Remember Me
Love Surrounds Me
Are You Real
He's A Bum
I Love You
Time For Bed
Album Tag Song
Thoughts Of You
River Song starts the album off with some an infectiously happy piano tinkering away before the track dives head first into almost a Wall Of Sound production. This song sees a gospel choir joining Dennis to great effect. There was originally a version of this with The Beach Boys on the harmonies which is also great but record companies with their contractual complexities forbid any Beach Boys actually participating on this album. There are still a few Beach Boy vocals sneaked into this album that some how ducked under the record label radar. Anyway, many consider River Song to be the absolute highlight of Pacific Ocean Blue. For me, it is one of many highlights but this is the one that almost everybody will love and is a great way to start the album.
Thoughts Of You, a stunning ballad. It starts of simply with some piano accompanying Dennis' lone vocal delivering a very pretty melody. Quiet strings drift in on the second verse. It's all very quiet and peaceful until the powerful middle section kicks in with "All things that live much one day die, you know, even love," where Dennis has some kind of fabulous reverb time shift effect on his voice.
Time continues in the same vain as Thoughts of you with another deeply passionate piano ballad but this time it's about womanising. How honest of Dennis! Like Thoughts of You it doesn't remain so slow and quiet all the way through. This concludes and fades with horns, a stomping beat and some chanting.
You and I is a lighter ballad that doesn't' make love seem so painful as some of the other tracks do. This is a nice bopping beat with some delicate acoustic guitar work.
Pacific Ocean Blues is a funky song with Beach Boy Mike Love's environmental lyrics letting us all know why the Pacific Ocean is blue and unhappy.
Farewell My Friend is a song written for Pop Hinsche, the father of long time Beach Boys sideman Billy Hinsche, who over the years became a close friend to Dennis. These slower songs really suit Dennis' voice at this point in his career and he carries across his emotion so well that the lyrics don't really matter anymore. When you listen to this you'll think of those you've lost that you'd hope to one day see again in heaven. There are some pretty background harmonies on this very touching song too.
Rainbows comes as a much needed respite from all of Dennis' problems. It's just so happy. It starts with some jolly banjo and jangly guitars as Dennis sings of flowers, sunshine, birds singing and the sounds of spring. There are some mandolins on here too along with some harmony vocals in the background.
The original album closes with excellent and touching End Of The Show. Although this album was completed and released a clear five years before Dennis drowned there is something almost prophetic communicated on this one. Dennis spent time in the studio after Pacific Ocean Blue was released but End Of The was the very last Dennis Wilson note that had an official release.
These are the pick of what was Pacific Ocean Blue. On this legacy Edition we get a few extras, a whole CD of Dennis' second album the unreleased Bambu . Even as an avid collector of all things Beach Boy related whether they have an official release or not, some of the extras here are totally new to me.
We get two versions of Holy Man, which is a stunning composition. This was finished by Dennis up to the instrumental stage. That instrumental is here and what a pleasure it is to listen to. The real surprise here is to have a finished version with a vocal. Not by Dennis, this is a newly recorded vocal by Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins. He does an exceptional job on this too. He actually sounds a bit like Dennis so it isn't a jarring experience to suddenly have a different set of vocal cords thrust through your speakers. A lot of care and attention went into completing Holy Man. In fact a lot of care and attention went into assembling all of these Bambu track along with remastering Pacific Ocean Blue and every second the team spent is much appreciated.
Mexico is a five minute instrumental that is simple gorgeous. Piano, strings, acoustic guitar and brass all play a part in creating a lovely atmosphere. I don't know if lyrics or a vocal line were written for this but live in hope that something will appear from the vaults in the future.
Listening to the Bambu outtakes I can believe it would have been as good as Pacific Ocean Blue had it been completed. It's the Smile sessions all over again. Some of the tracks sound very much unfinished but there is enough presented here to get a feel for how the rockier Bambu would have sounded and it could have been great.
So what can I say to summarise this album? I think Pacific Ocean Blue Legacy Edition is just so Dennis that it is impossible to separate the art from the man. Dennis was a man that lived so fast he was never likely to see old age. He put everything he had into the time God set aside for him. Pacific Ocean Blue is just the same. It's full of Dennis' creative passion. By listening to this you will feel like you know the man. His recording career, just like his life, really should have been longer. What he gave us however was top notch and there is nothing else remotely like it, just like the great man himself.
I first heard this album about ten years ago when a friend lent me his original vinyl copy. It didn't really sink in at first, but after a few years, I suddenly realised it had become my favourite album. When it was FINALLY issued on cd recently, I got a little offended when people didn't immediately love it as I do!
If you are coming to this record as a fan of The Beach Boys early material, forget it. There is little or nothing here that is related to that sound. If, however, you are a fan of their more introspective work, circa Pet Sounds and beyond, and feel you could go on a journey even deeper into those sounds, then this is the album for you.
Dennis Wilson never just SINGS a song- he inhabits it with his body and soul- you will never disbelieve a word he sings. When he sings 'i love you' as he does many times over the course of this record, you feel it.
Honesty is an element that is SO rare in music of any kind, of any era, and this album has it in abundance.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 River Song
2 What's Wrong
4 Friday Night
6 Thoughts Of You
8 You And I
9 Pacific Ocean Blues
10 Farewell My Friend
12 End Of The Show
13 Tug Of Love
14 Only With You
15 Holy Man
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Under The Moonlight
2 It's Not Too Late
3 School Girl
4 Love Remember Me
5 Love Surrounds Me
6 Wild Situation
8 Are You Real
9 He's A Bum
11 I Love You
12 Constant Companion
13 Time For Bed
14 Album Tag Song
15 All Alone
16 Thoughts Of You
17 Holy Man