The Beach Boys - Surf’s Up - Review
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critics' view

The Beach Boys ironically titled 1971 LP stands in contrast to the group’s reinvention as a socially conscious unit. Album opener, “Don’t Go Near The Water” is fabulous and hilarious – the trademark choral harmonies remain but these days we’re being led to believe that “Surfin USA” wasn’t such a great idea after all – avoid that polluted water kids! A key feature of this LP is that all Beach Boys stepped up to the plate as songwriters – the state of the nation and the struggle for change is getting to Carl on “Long Promised Road”: “So hard to plant the seed of reform, to set my sights on defeating the storm.” They’re saying all the right things for me – and the tunes are pretty neat too.

Despite the right-on head-nodding it’s the light-hearted “Take a Load Off Your Feet” which emerges as my favourite – a song for pregnant mammas everywhere, a universal truth. “Student Demonstration Time” soon gets the protest movement back on track. It’s Mike Love who steps forward for this one, re-inventing “Riot in Cell Block #9” (The Robins, 1954) with a newly written set of lyrics which are summed up with the killer line “We're all fed up with useless wars and racial strife.” Right on Mike.

In another surprising twist, the group’s new manager, Jack Rieley, steps up for lead vocals on the humorously titled, but nonetheless earnest “A Day In The Life of a Tree”, which comes complete with bird noises alongside a mournful harmonium. Said Rieley:

“Brian Wilson and I had been talking a lot about the sorry state of the planet back then. He was filled with questions and we went on for hours about it. Forests were dying, the air had turned brown, the earth's future was beginning to appear hazardous to health. When Brian first played the chords and sang the tentative melody for me, he asked what the song should be about and I suggested a single tree as metaphor for the earth; that single tree as metaphor for more than ecology. I fell in love with the chords at once and loved the swelling tension of that droned bass line; the song seemed to lend itself to the lyrical concept.”

It could potentially be a twee embarrassment – but the bravery pays off and they emerge triumphantly with an affecting statement.

The album ends with the title-track, which finally sees the light of day after some 5 years in the making. Unsurprisingly, it has nothing to do with surfing, it’s about a spiritual awakening and prophesies an optimistic hope for those who can capture the innocence of youth. It’s really the perfect way to end a Beach Boys album. Even in this protest-era beset with racism, crime, war and poverty they still manage to find an uplifting tone. They’re true artists – and they’re on good form right here.

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