Beck, Arabian Prince, Dennis Wilson, Love: Four More Great L.A. Reissues of 2008
Dennis Wilson | Pacific Ocean Blue | Columbia Legacy
There’s a reason why Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue hasn’t been available in nearly 30 years: It’s a bummer — wobbly, confusing, and depressed. A big, mournful choir cascades through the songs, oohing and ahhing along to tales of grief and confusion: “I had to get away, I had to get away,” they sing on the massive opener, “River Man.” Unlike his work with his brothers in the Beach Boys, Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue is not a joyous album about young love and riding the waves but a collection of songs about no love and staring at the walls. The record plods along, each song a little bit longer than it needs to be; the mix is muddy; the lyrics teeter on the edge of obviousness as the then-tattered Boy, who died six years later after a long battle with alcoholism (this week is the 25th anniversary of his death), faces the ugly side of L.A. dreams. When he screams, “Oh, it’s Friday night!” you feel like you better stay off the road. But in this recklessness lies its allure. This is a beach boy washed up onto shore, drenched and gasping. As such, it feels incredibly honest, like the bullshit’s been stripped away. The second disc features songs recorded for the unreleased follow-up, Bambu, and it’s even weirder. “Schoolgirl” sounds like an ugly version of E.L.O.; is about, well, being in love with a schoolgirl; and features a little bongo solo. Stay away from the hard stuff, indeed.
Arabian Prince | Innovative Life: The Anthology 1984–1989 | Stones Throw
Who would’ve thought that by rediscovering the lost member of N.W.A, we’d also uncover the likewise forgotten prehistory of L.A. hip-hop? The number of years Innovative Life pulls from may be limited to a precious five, but the timing is perfect. Arabian Prince was one of the first local rap artists to record and release his songs, and those initial electro-rap outpourings were a direct evolution of the multiculti B-boy block parties that gave rise to a viable Southern California scene. For better or worse, those gatherings also gave the gangbangers a place to raise ruckus and, eventually, an art form to inhabit. Arabian himself didn’t ride the transition well, but he was there, collaborating with Dre, when homey was still wearing eyeliner and sequins, and working under the beady stare of Eazy-E (R.I.P.) to help craft the soundtrack behind the world’s introduction to hard-core gangsta rap.
Love | Out Here | Universal Music Enterprises
This year’s latest Rhino revisitation of Love’s Forever Changes (in a two-disc “collectors’ edition,” augmented with alternate mixes), along with the often-fascinating, if narrowly focused documentary Love Story DVD, emphasizes yet again that the L.A. band’s initially ignored 1967 album was a masterfully prescient and defiantly unique blend of fragile pop melodicism, orchestral grandeur, mariachi horns and paranoia. But the film and Rhino’s retro focus also perpetuate the myth that bandleader Arthur Lee was a briefly brilliant burnout whose music over the ensuing four decades was largely worthless. Much of the problem is that, while he really was forever changing, Lee’s early fans weren’t. Love’s fairly rare (and unfairly obscure) 1969 double album, Out Here, indicates that the madly eclectic Lee was probably too smart and talented for his time. It truly is out there, and all over the place, delivering Little Richard–trilling psychedelic blues rock (“Stand Out”) and sarcastic militaristic marches/theatrical skits (“Discharged”) to 11-minute power-pop anthems/global-peace initiatives (“Love Is More Than Words”) and airy jazz-pop that’s fluffier than the Fifth Dimension (“Nice to Be”), as well as minor-key acoustic ballads that evoke the softly eerie glow of Love’s early era (“Listen to My Song”). Universal also recently reissued False Start, the 1970 follow-up to Out Here, which cranks it up further, with great hard-rock tunes like “The Everlasting First,” Lee’s supercharged collaboration with old pal Jimi Hendrix.
Beck | Odelay — Deluxe Edition | Geffen
When they hear Beck’s name, 11 out of 15 California high schoolers respond with such concrete pronouncements as “What?,” “I’ve never heard it,” or “Is he classical?” At least, those high schoolers who were quizzed by Dave Eggers upon the 12th anniversary of Odelay’s release. But read between the liner notes of Eggers’ contribution to this deluxe reissue, and you’ll find a reassuring truth: Every teen who’s asked confirms that these miniature po-mo masterpieces sound contemporary. Odelay’s cultural significance has been discussed ever since its arrival in 1996. It’s almost impossible not to mention how this unexpected confirmation of Beck’s longevity signified a new dynasty’s rise to that dingy throne once occupied by Kurt Cobain. Or how Beck’s was a particularly Southern Californian take on the slackerdom long associated with endless dreariness. There was humor in this — down to the production itself — and the whole thing felt not unlike waking up hung over in a city whose every hustle and bustle takes place within reach of a surfboard. It was sun and cigarettes, endless summers and endless slack, but what really comes to mind hearing these songs more than a decade on is that had we not heard Beck’s subsequent albums, there really wouldn’t be anything here to suggest Odelay wasn’t made yesterday, or tomorrow even. Beck is his own greatest imitator, if only because no one else has given it a proper shot. And if none of that convinces you of this reissue’s significance, the album’s worth of B-sides and unreleased material should do the trick.
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