Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dennis Wilson Is The Mechanic

The above title, of course, refers to the original marketing campaign for Two-Lane Blacktop and Dennis Wilson's role in that now-classic road film. However, my point in bringing up Wilson was not to discuss his lone acting performance, but the imminent, and long-delayed, reissue of his lone solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue.  An album that no less than Julian Cope considers a "contender for greatest album of all time," Pacific Ocean Blue has nevertheless been out-of-print since the early 1990s.  Since that time it's fetched large sums on the collector's market, but this situation has been somewhat remedied by the fact that downloads of the album have appeared on music blogs in recent years.  Pacific Ocean Blue has reportedly been the victim of the unfortunate, and much publicized, infighting that has plagued the Beach Boy family for the last few decades.  

Happily, the legal hurdles seem to have been cleared and Pacific Ocean Blue is slated to be released in a 2-disc set (on CD and vinyl) from Caribou/Epic/Legacy that will include the album proper and previously unreleased sessions from Wilson's aborted follow-up, Bamboo (shades of Smile).  I'd read this Pitchfork announcement last month and stuck it under my cap until I unexpectedly heard Pacific Ocean Blue playing in my favorite pizza joint here in Bloomington, Indiana.  Turns out the kid behind the counter had just discovered the album online and I was happy to tell him that the real deal was finally coming back.  So if you're considering one of these, try and hold off until May.  

As for the music, the album is a prime slice of '70s California rock and it's a shame that it's been so very obscure and underappreciated for so long.  Wilson himself was dismissive of his efforts, but this shouldn't deter potential listeners as Pacific Ocean Blue offers many pleasures, not the least of which are Wilson's weathered, heartfelt vocals, effectively spare arrangements, poignant and haunting lyrics, stellar piano work, and even a cameo from brother Carl.  To my mind, "Time" is as achingly beautiful a song as anything brother Brian has given us.  The remainder of the album is a mix of soulful love songs/confessionals ("Moonshine," "End of the Road," "You and I") and jauntier, bluesy numbers ("Pacific Ocean Blues," "Friday Night," "River Song").  A tragic figure to be sure, the troubled, hard-living Wilson was able to keep it together long enough to produce what, up until now, has been a lost classic. 

Someone over at the Criterion message forums, said that if Criterion were ever to start releasing albums, Pacific Ocean Blue would be a prime candidate and I couldn't agree more. With Two-Lane Blacktop getting the Criterion treatment in December, that would have been the perfect time to start up the new line.  Obviously, there's no need for that now, but I wouldn't mind seeing Criterion dip their toes into the reissue market along the lines of a Soul Jazz or Rhino Handmade.

Finally, I must acknowledge the very nice "Denny" tribute site where most of the pictures I've posted came from.


Jeremy Richey said...

I posted a little notice on this myself. This is one of the major re-issues of the decade to my eyes, as it is one of the most majestic spriritual masterpieces I have ever heard...I can't wait to hear a great sounding remaster of it.
God bless Dennis.

Ned Merrill said...

Right up there with the best of Gene Clark (another under-appreciated musical genius) and alongside David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" as one of the best music reissues, of this era, in the last couple years.