Monday 29 June 2015

The Beach Boys "MIU Album" (1978)

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The Beach Boys "MIU Album" (1978)

She's Got Rhythm/Come Go With Me/Hey Little Tomboy/Kona Coast/Peggy Sue/Wontcha Come Out Tonight?//Sweet Sunday/Belles Of Paris/Pitter Patter/My Diane/Match Point Of Our Love/Winds Of Change

"We'll ride out the storm just a little bit longer!"

The irony! 'MIU' is one of the most bitterly fought over AAA albums, made with a lot of bad blood and power struggles, with Brian Wilson bullied and blackmailed into working, which came close to splitting the band up for good...and it's named after  the 'Maharishi International University' in Iowa. A retreat intended for peace-loving people to access their inner peace and let all the petty squabbles of the world behind. A retreat that was meant to lessen the worries of the outside world, not magnify them. A retreat that only half The Beach Boys wanted to record in - but were forced to go along with anyway. Though oddly there's no mention at all of meditation on this record (unlike the last two Beach Boys albums '15 Big Ones' and 'Love You'), yes this bitter album really was recorded at the MIU across a few weeks in Spring 1978 (hence the name). Well sort of: Dennis was busy with his solo album and Carl refused to show up given the rows the band had been having across 1977 and the treatment of his brother Brian in particular, so actually only Mike Love, Al Jardine and a reluctant Brian Wilson turned up for work for a three-way album best described as 'odd'. For years now Mike had been talking about wanting to make a Beach Boys record based on their old formula of catchy songs and a return to the simpler way of writing and with Carl and Dennis' absence sensed the time was right to prove to the world that there was still life in The Beach Boys yet. To some extent the plan worked - 'Peggy Sue' was a minor hit on first release and 'Come Go With Me' the band's first top ten hit since 'Rock and Roll Music' in 1976 when released as the 'promo single' for the 'Ten Years Of Harmony' compilation in 1980. However it arguably came too late - all the fans of the early singles had left in droves long ago and longterm fans who'd stuck with the band thought the return to yesteryear after an, erm, interesting decade was a slap in the face with 'MIU' equalling Sunflower's achievement as lowest charting Beach Boys record in the States (both peaking at #151, weirdly). What was intended to be a mega success instead became an abject failure and one with major ructions for the group - it's their last album for second record label Reprise (whose sales really hurt the band's move to Caribou the following year), their last album with Mike and Al in charge (well, for now; Carl and Dennis call all the shots on the next album 'LA Light' and the two records after a sort-of democracy) and very nearly their last album period.

To this day many fans consider 'MIU' one of The Beach Boys' weaker moments - even with all that awful shlock still to come from the 1980s and 1990s. While I'd never make the claim that MIU is one of the better ones (no record with two quickly re-written and barely concealed Christmas songs, two rock and roll covers from the 1950s and the single most distasteful moment in The Beach Boys' canon could possibly be that) I've always been of the opinion that 'MIU' is another of those 'nearly' Beach Boys albums. You know the ones - the records like 'Carl and the Passions' and 'The Beach Boys Love You' where so much goes right in such a sweet low-key way that it's a shame that what goes wrong so colossally just overpowers everything. While Brian gets less to do than on the last two records and is by all accounts the most seriously ill he's ever been up to this point, some of his songs have that special Brian Wilson quirkiness and his lead vocals sound far less strained somehow. His trio of songs near the end of side two ('Pitter Patter' 'My Diane' and 'Matchpoint Of Our Love') are among his most severely under-rated, with Dennis' gruff cameo on the middle song a last great burst of Beach Boy grit and Brian's detached straight-faced vocal on the last of these three the most 'normal' Brian has sounded since the 1960s. A shame about the other nine songs of course...
The main trouble with 'MIU' isn't what happened at the end (when the last songs written for the album were actually pretty decent) but what happened at the beginning. Even though the eccentric album 'The Beach Boys Love You' hasn't been many people's ideas of a classic record, it did at least feature Brian Wilson in charge and with the option of recording what he wanted. Another album on the same lines was already close to being made (with at least nine songs recorded for the project) titled 'Adult Child' - and a typically bonkers and over-ambitious yet strangely sweet and compelling record it is too. With Brian's booze and drug intake at its peak and Dennis' recent solo album, the glorious 'Pacific Ocean Blues' semi-permanently on the hi-fi Brian pours himself into the record and comes up with a few autobiographical gems alongside the weirder stuff. 'Lines' isn't what you expect (it's a song about Brian's exercise routine - though admittedly a routine taken in an attempt to keep him off the drugs) but it's charmingly Brian, 'It's Trying To Say' - Brian's song for Dennis - is a glorious philosophical ode, Carl's 'Everybody's Trying To Say' is a marvellous update of the old Beach Boys sounds for a more adult age and Brian's take on the rat pack songbook with 'Still I Dream Of It' is heart-wrenching in the extreme. The only problem is 'Love You' didn't sell that well and Reprise are no longer patient enough for Brian to work out his problems whilst paying for his studio time. Instead Mike and Al take it upon themselves to scrap the entire moving, heartfelt, emotionally adult album - with the sole exception of the album's weakest track, the misogynistic 'Hey Little Tomboy', the one track where Brian working to his own rulebook is a problem not a solution - and instead decide to make a silly kid's Christmas album instead.

To be fair the festive version of 'MIU' (intended to be titled 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys' and often used as 'filler' on CD re-releases of 'The Beach Boys' Christmas') has its moments too. Dennis, still busy with his solo album but keen to add some festive cheer to the band, submits the achingly gorgeous if rather solemn 'Christmas Morning'; Brian's moody 'Winter Symphony' is his best vocal of the decade so far and the re-make of 1969's 'Loop De Loop Flip Flop' (here re-titled 'Santa's Got An Airplane') is fun, if unfocussed. Guess what? That's right - Reprise can't stand this album either and tell The Beach Boys to try again and be quick about it. Mike and Al sensibly decide to see what they can rescue rather than starting from scratch - and yet again rescue the wrong bleeding half of the record! Songs like 'Mekelakikimaka' and 'Belles Of Christmas' were too daft even for a festive album; re-worked into unconvincing pop songs about Hawaii and Paris respectively they became pointlessly shallow and gauche; the exact backwards past-it image The Beach Boys had done so well the past few years shedding. And that's not all - even after the recording sessions finally get underway a third time the band don't see fit to include 'Our Team', a silly pop song with the whole of the MIU students chanting along and a rare bit of unity with everyone but Dennis taking part (even Carl!) It's the single best song from these sessions not written by Brian (it's mainly by Al, with extras from a few other writers) and ended up being stuck in the vaults until being unearthed on the '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' set in 1993. Thankfully Brian's three new recordings made the album or this really would have been the Worst Beach Boys Album Ever.

 The problem, then, isn't just that MIU is misguided or rushed, but that it could have been so much more had the usual Beach Boy power struggles not come to a head whilst making it. Just picture how great an album might have been which contains the above songs all in one place alongside 'My Diane' 'Pitter Patter' and 'Matchpoint Of Our Love' - (the best since 'Holland', possibly 'Sunflower'). That would however left Mike and Al in a bit of a pickle - because despite effectively masterminding two records now it would have left them with very little to do on a record they'd put their all into. Until now they'd got out of their predicaments by relying on Brian to create the nuggets while they filled in the gaps - but the delay between records meant Reprise were getting impatient and they simply didn't have the time (instead Brian had taken the poor sales to 'Love You' - a record he invested a lot of time in - and the rejection of 'Adult Child' hard and was his usual unpredictable self in this period, eager to get working and fizzing with ideas on his good days and trapped against his better judgement offering nothing on his bad ones). For the first time ever Brian didn't get the sole producer credit - instead he got promoted to 'executive producer' while the album's real leaders (Al and band friend and occasional songwriter Ron Altbach) got the 'real' producer's credit below him. Circumstances and inter-band politics (Carl and Dennis were disgusted at the way Mike and Al always manipulated band arguments so that Brian 'agreed with them' and they became the 'majority') meant that the pair were dead against using either's material either (instead the pair get a single cameo each on a Brian Wilson song - Carl is wasted on the silly 'Our Sweet Loce' though thankfully Dennis' painful gruffness is the perfect fit for Brian's 'My Diane', a song that may well have been written by his elder brother in the same confessional style of his 'Pacific' record).

So, with Carl and Dennis unwilling to work and Brian largely unable, Mike and Al simply ploughed on, resisting the temptation to dig back into the vaults except for two Christmas songs they'd worked hard on and - bizarrely - Brian's 'Hey Little Tomboy' (perhaps the worst track recorded out of the three goes at this LP) and instead writing at speed. Only the pair of them aren't very good at writing at speed. Both Mike and Al are great writers when they feel truly inspired - songs like 'Sumahama' and 'Lady Lynda' from the next LP alone prove how talented both Love and Jardine are when they really feel passionately about something to say. But working at speed is something only Brian with his natural gifts managed to do successfully and it gave him something of a nervous breakdown; their decision to stuck religiously to the old-time formula of simple pop songs without much to say is the single worst decision of the album; not because they can't pull it off but because they can't pull it off at such speed.  Their contributions to the album return to the formula of the past alright, with their slick productions and anti-sceptic lyrics and melodies, but they lack the depth that a few extra weeks in the studios would have given them - or the sense of contrasts these songs might have had when set against the deeper songs taken from the last two abandoned records. Hearing Mike teach us Hawaiian or The Beach Boys rehashing sloppy covers of songs from their childhood was the sort of formula that only worked in the mid-1960s because we knew that the band were stretched past their limit anyway and the band was still charismatic and charming enough to (usually) get away with it as long as Brian still had time to write a classic or three per album. By removing themselves of everything else except that lucky 'last strike' of Brian Wilson compilations, Mike and Al have basically made one of those early Beach Boys albums padded out with filler, without even the hit singles to go with them (unless you seriously think that one of the all-time worst covers of 'Peggy Sue' and a so-similar-it-may-as-well-be-the-same cover of The Vikings' 'Come Go With Me' represent the band at their best). For three-quarters of this album 'MIU' is terrible, truly awful, like all the worst aspects of The Beach Boys stuck together in one place (clichéd lyrics, too-simple melodies and a production and performances that have no connection with any real emotion) - and yet I still like this album, both for the other quarter of unheralded Brian Wilson gems and the thought that this album could so easily have been a winner in different circumstances.

The record's flop status had a major shift in how The Beach Boys evolved - effectively proving to one half of the band that returning to the old commercial days was a bad move and the momentum shifting back to a patient Carl and a newly invigorated post-solo album Dennis for the far superior 'LA Light Album' which silences both Mike and Al to the same sort of token cameos they were given across this record, but on their own songs this time. To be fair, that record was a flop too however much occasional fans like me love it - which perhaps all proves a point: The Beach Boys work best when they're together (when they're, to use the words from an album outtake, 'for our team, yeah!') Mike's and Al's work can be extraordinary - but they have to mean it, have to have worked on it for years and have to show off their knack for writing catchy and accessible songs in the context of the overall Beach Boys sound. Carl and Dennis wrote some truly haunting. beautiful songs that are exactly what the band should have been doing for long-term fans like me who thought there was always more to this group than sun and surf and sand - and yet for most fans their songs sounded better when set next to Mike and Al's simpler, lighter material. As for Brian, if either faction of the band wanted him back anywhere near his best they had to live in harmony with each other as best they could, stop sulking and playing mind games and remember what a great heritage they carried around with them and what a privilege it was to be able to add to it, however low the sales were at the time. No wonder 'MIU' doesn't quite work - at times it's a wonder that it works as well as it does, especially with such misguided songs as the insulting French monologue 'Belles Of Paris' or the you're-not-pretty-enough 'Hey Little Tomboy', a shocking lapse in taste (the main difference between the halves of the band? Carl, for one,  had an instinct about what worked and - on his good days - the humility to go with the best idea in the room; Mike and Al seem to have had the policy of 'if we like it then the rest of the world will like it!' which isn't always the case; as writer Brian would normally be mainly to blame too - but how can he help it when his friend and cousin say 'yeah - more of that please and less emotionally powerful songs about how your heart is breaking please!') The fact that such a disjointed album made with such antipathy and dislike where the band clearly hadn't learnt a thing about how to live with each other and get the best out of each other was made in a place of peace and learning is hilarious. As is the presumably unintended pun in the credits ('Thankyou Maharishi for enabling us to record our album in an environment of love' - this love, of course, being of the Mike Love variety).

Not, of course, that we really knew what MIU stood for when the album first came out: the credit for the MIU Institute only comes in very small letters on the inner sleeve and the tacky cover (of a surfer at night) seems to have nothing to do with the title at all. Instead fans made up what they thought those initials stood for: 'Mildly Irritating Upstarts'? 'Mike's In-Charge, Ugh!'  'Majorly Incriminating Underachiever' 'Mocking Industry's Usurpers?' 'Messy, Inferior and Ugly?''Moping Is Unseemly?' 'My - It's Unlistenable!' 'Mekelakikimaka? I'm Unimpressed!' The biggest surprise of the record is that once 'Our Team' was removed there's absolutely nothing about peace or meditation on here. In fact there isn't really a 'theme' on this album at all (which must be a Beach Boys first - even 'Party' had a theme, even if it was only a 'how many potato chips can I fit in my mouth while upstaging my brother while he's trying to sing?' kind of a one). Instead we get everything with a geography that varies between France and Hawaii (which both sounds suspiciously similar), a philosophy that varies from returning to the safety of the past ('Sweet Sunday') to embracing the future ('Winds Of Change') and which takes in such demented subject matters as raindrops, tennis games and tomboys who'd look so much better with some lipstick on and a dress, oh yes they would honest set against heartbreak, betrayal and depression (and that's just 'My Diane'). I'd love to say that this scattershot album has a bit of everything deliberately or even that we're looking at the sort of clever 'lessons in contrast' going on in Simon and Garfunkel's 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme' (seriously, you can divide the whole album into pairs, based on class, different takes on love and poetry being both profound and silly) - except that I don't think we are. 'MIU' isn't an album that feels substantial enough to be doing anything by purpose - instead it's just the best that two men could do in a hurry with a record company breathing down their neck, a poorly cousin/friend who didn't want to be there and two other cousins/friends/enemies they'd rather record any mess over actually calling up and asking for help. Instead it only sounds substantial sometimes by accident and mainly thanks to putting those three great Brian Wilson songs together near the end. Perhaps the most telling thing about it is how the various Beach Boys remembered it afterwards: for Mike it didn't do very well because it was 'too democratic'; for Dennis it was a 'an embarrassment to my life, it should self-destruct!' and when asked about the record in the 1990s Brian couldn't remember anything about making it at all! Divisive yet too bland to remember - that rather says it all.

Is a record worth buying for three songs? Well, that's up to you, but given that the only CD version on catalogue comes with the much nicer 'L A Light Album' (a record every Beach Boys fan should own - in fact the last album, chronologically speaking, that Beach Boys fans should own) then I'd say yes. After all, 'Tomboy' 'Paris' and 'Kona Coast' nothing here is too awful - just ordinary by The Beach Boys' very high standards. After all, how many times will you feel the need to play Al Jardine sleep-singing his way through drippy ballad 'Winds Of Change'? To dig out 'Mekelekikimaka' because at least on a Christmas record the sort of patronising terminology heard on 'Kona Coast' makes some kind of warped sense? Or listen to 'Peggy Sue' without feeling the urge to put the superior original on instead? All Beach Boys have something though - something you need - and this record is no exception, with Brian sounding much perkier and much more himself in this more old-fashioned world of non-synths and half-block-Beach-Boys-harmonies than he did on 'Love You' (even if the songs aren't as good - or at least a lot more safe and 'normal' rather than 'unique if a bit bonkers'). The covers may be bland - but they're not as bad as on '15 Big Ones'. The band may be fractious - but you can still hear more of The Beach Boys sound here than on 'Love You'. The writing may be disappointing - but Brian's on good form, which automatically gives this record a star rating higher than the 1980s records. For all of these reasons 'MIU' is better than the  'That's Why God Made The Radio' album everyone fell over themselves to praise at least - even if a lot of this review just seems like a wrong list of excuses without many actual things here to enjoy purely on their own merit. Things will, thankfully, get better - though after that they'll get a lot, lot worse than this... More In (a) Unisecond...

'She's Got Rhythm' sums up the album nicely - spirited, but a little shrill and woefully repetitive. Still, the chance to hear Brian Wilson actually sounding happy for a change and back singing to somewhere approaching his natural higher register once more is a welcome one and if you squint your ears really hard this could just be The Beach Boys of old. Interestingly the lyrics may be a sequel of sorts to 'Good Vibrations', with Brian as a dating teenager sensing that a certain girl he hasn't met yet has a certain 'rhythm' about her that resonates with his. Brian's joy is counterpointed by Mike's sour-faced verse, though, as he narrates the simple facts as his cousin gets madly carried away and sounding like the voice of doom ('The place was near closing - I offered to take her home!') Mike and Al do a good job at trying to sound like a full complement of Beach Boys in the backing, but the melody doesn't really go anywhere and you've kinda learnt all the tricks going in this simple song by the first minute.

'Come Go With Me' reveals Al's strong belief that The Beach Boys can find unity and strength by returning to the past and the music that inspired the band the first time round. This cover of The Del Vikings' song by Clarence Quick was a #4 hit in 1957 - the perfect timing for The Beach Boys' childhoods - and in many ways this is the perfect Beach Boys cover with lots of space for their doo-wop and rock and roll strengths and lots of space for Mike and Al to cross over lines. Certainly enough fans liked it to make it the band's last big pre-Kokomo hit when released as a single in 1980. However like 'Rock and Roll Music' 'Peggy Sue' and dozens of other Al-led cover songs, it all falls slightly flat. There's nothing really here that wasn't done better on the original and it all sounds slightly false and distant somehow, as if neither of the two leads either know or care what they're singing. Worryingly, there doesn't seem to be a sound of Brian here either, although that does sound like Carl cropping up on the group chorus this time. Well, it's better than a good half of '15 Big Ones' but I can't say I particularly wanna come go with the band based on this song.

There is perhaps a little too much Brian on 'Hey Little Tomboy', the single worst song to be revived from 'Adult Child' and responsible for putting so many fans off the 1977 recorded bootleg for so many years (honestly, the rest isn't like this misguided song at all). Carl is back long enough to add an enthusiastic vocal but Brian sounds awfully gruff. As for the lyrics: yuck! This narrator reckons a girl could be pretty if only she stopped acting like a boy - and feels far too smug with himself for giving her the time of day. 'I smell perfume, I like jeans, so many changes I see!' sings an oddly lecherous Brian without any thought given over to what the girl might want (she's clearly chosen that lifestyle for a reason - probably because she keeps getting too much attention from bozos like the narrator who should know better!) On the plus side this 1978 remix loses the appalling middle eight when The Beach Boys stand around ad libbing all the changes they're going to make and is much sharper all round, with more for Mike and Carl to do besides Brian. But dear God those words - why did nobody step in and stop this travesty? The long lost cousin of 'Dressed Up For School' (Ooh what a turn on!) 'Tomboy' is a rather unfortunate example of what five middle-aged men trying to sound like teenagers can come up with unedited and the results aren't pretty. Frustratingly, 'Tomboy' is easily the most exciting song on the album, the one track here that sounds as if it was put together in Brian's beloved 'sections' instead of traced directly from slot A to slot B. Few other songs go in so many different directions in a mere 150 seconds, but without a Tony Asher or Van Dyke Parks Brian badly lacks the creative voice to make the most of his inspiration and instead turns to what's on his mind - an uglier re-write of 'Caroline, No' but this time with really short hair!

'Kona Coast' or 'Mekelekikikamaka' to you is next! - no I'm not swearing, that's what this song was originally called when intended for 'Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys' where for reasons best known to himself Mike Love decided to teach us how to say 'Merry Christmas' in Hawaiian. Funnily enough, I've never had to use that nugget of information yet. No instead I'm saving my swearing for this pale re-tread of sixties song 'Hawaii' which was re-written in su8ch a hurry that half the lyrics don't rhyme and lines just drift off into nothing... There are so many mysteries surrounding this seemingly simple song: why is surfing in Hawaii Mike's 'Captain Cook Moment'? (Seeing as I've just come here from the Dr Who story 'The Greatest Show In The Galaxy' in which Captain Cook turns out to be a werewolf perhaps I can see it now actually...) Why add in the line 'The Great Pacific Ocean Expanded' - even if it has (geologically doubtful) it certainly hasn't since Mike first went there a few years earlier, so why tell us? Why is Phil Spector of all people 'wishing us a friendly 'Aloha' - (since when did Phil Spector wish anybody a happy anything, least of all his rivals in The Beach Boys?!) Why did Mike think rhyming 'Mecca' and 'You Betcha!' was a good idea? It's almost as if this song was being made up on the spot (close: it was badly re-worded from the original with all the Christmas references moved, with as little re-writing as possible...) Mike Love gets a lot of stick from fans but at his best he's a terrific lyricist: his simple words for 'California Girls' say so much in such little space and as recently as 'Holland' he's been writing odes to America that are hauntingly beautiful. But this is rubbish that even a beginner wouldn't get away with. The rest of the band sound suitably bored, trying to re-create a sort of bad karaoke Beach Boys that sounds far less convincing than on the rest of the album. This song is a struggle to sit through in either version, but at least the Christmas recoding has spirit (of a sort) - this re-make is just stupid.

Another Christmas leftover, funnily enough, was 'Peggy Sue' - or to be more accurate the yule-tidied version 'Christmas Time Is Here Again' (same tune, but with some atrocious new Al Jardine lyrics that would have made Buddy Holly's glasses fall off in shame). As heard here, 'Peggy Sue' is lively enough, with an Al Jardine vocal bordering on hysterical and as a backing track this is one of the most inventive here, with a few flying guitar riffs (probably Ed Carter rather than Carl), a synth part that unusually starts this happy song in the minor key and a walking bass that keeps momentum going. Carl's there for the backing too, briefly, with a better-than-average attempt at some block Beach Boys harmonies on the chorus. However, there's no getting away from it: this is a messy, rushed, confused affair with everything that made the original so popular (Buddy's enthusiasm, his character-making vocal 'hiccups', the sheer newness of hearing a song like this) distinctly missing. How this song made it even as far up the charts as the low 50s in America I'll never know - almost every other cover of this much-heard song has more to offer than this one, which is plainly here just to fill up another two minutes of the record.

'Wontcha Come Out Tonight' has, given the album it's sitting in, more flashes of genius than most. There's a pretty tune here with Brian back to his natural instinctive best and it's switches of pace from sighing longing to tortured waiting is well handled. Mike is quick to pick up on this in the lyric and turns in his best on the album, underplaying the song for once with a dreamy, hazy feel about a wonderful night that's ending all too quickly. However the track certainly doesn't sound as if the Beach Boys are having a wonderful time - instead everyone sounds bored out of their skulls, as if this is take 233 and all of them have gone right off this song. Brian comes as close to sleep-singing as he ever has and clearly doesn't want to be there; but a double-tracked Mike is right there with him, sighing his way through his own lyric. The chorus of block Beach Boys vocals is stapled on badly at the beginning  and end too, jolting the listener out of the reverence into a party atmosphere that just doesn't fit. Many post-sixties Beach Boys recordings are lost opportunities (some of those eighties recordings would have been really good had they not sounded so much like eighties recordings), but few mess up a semi-promising song quite as clumsily as this one does. Frustrating.

Hurrah, Carl's back! 'Sweet Sunday' (listed as 'Sweet Sunday Kind Of Love' on the label but not the sleeve) is to be honest another atrocious song with Brian and Mike returning a bit too blatantly to the old formula: a cosy night in during an early part of a teenage romance before reality has set in just yet and with a lyric that recalls 'And Your Dreams Come True'. However Carl's vocal is committed, however daft it is, and it's suddenly as if the whole album has gone up a gear. Brian may well have written the song especially for his younger brother as it plays to a lot of his strengths: quiet intimacy and cosy romanticism. In many ways its like the 'crooning' song Brian got Carl to record for 'Adult Child', but the younger Wilson shows a bit more restraint here doing just as little as he can get away with. The middle eight is especially striking, as Carl's vocal steps 'forward', rising little bit by little bit as The Beach Boys' harmonies gradually fall - hinting that the impossible dream of the narrator he's waited so long for is finally within reach at last. It's a special moment on a less than special LP, even if, out of context, you'd never really give this sweet yet simple song the time of day.

'Bells Of Paris' is another disaster area. Not content with insulting the people of Hawaii, Mike turns his sights on the French with a clichéd, patronising lyric that features some of the worst rhymes of his career, not unlike William McGonagal's obscenely bad attempts at poetry ('Pitch a penny in her like a wishing well, feed the pigeons in the park near the Tour Eifelle' - erm, I think you'll find its London that has the pigeons, Paris has, umm, French Hens or something). Even if you didn't know it would be easy to tell that this song too came from the aborted festive album where it was originally titled 'Bells of Christmas'. You can almost picture the band thinking to themselves 'Hmm, what else has Bells? Jester's hats? Cats? Noddy? Aha Paris - that'll do!' That's it - there's no insight into the inner workings of Paris here and even as a travelogue there's nothing here to go on - it's a surprise, actually, to learn, that yes The Beach Boys really did come here on their 1968/69 European tour. Something tells me Mike was back at the hotel when the others were sightseeing however as this lyric is hopeless. Again, though, the melody isn't bad and you can see why the band would want to revive it after the Christmas album was rejected. But what a shame they didn't simply junk the 'bells' idea and write a completely new song to go with the track (you can't even hear the bells properly on this album mix!)

At last, just when you're giving up all hope and wondering when the torture will be over and inwardly promising never to be rude to The Spice Girls again if only the album would stop, in comes a run of better, nay excellent, nay superb, nay brilliant songs that only The Beach Boys could have made. Mike and Al gets co-credits on 'Pitter Patter' but this is obviously a Brian Wilson song that picks up on their old rivals The Beatles' take that 'rain or shine is just a state of mind'. The narrator has been waiting for the rain to fall for hours and finally it arrives in a tumultuous storm of thunder and lightning. Brian's take on this (and surely its his lyric - it's so Brian) is that he was looking forward to the rain because it will be quicker getting to the point where it stops and things are back to normal: it could be that Brian was genuinely weather-watching or that he meant this as a comment on the arguments and divisions within The Beach Boys. His enthusiasm is infectious and for once Mike and Al join right in with a delightful vocal which they patter back and forth like a tennis match (more on that story later...) Brian adds that rain helps crops grow and new seed to form and adds the comforting thought that 'when it rains the ways of love rise in  my heart'. Well, they are The Beach Boys after all and if you can't be by the sea then rain is the next best thing. The song also offers the 'theme' of this record (in as much as a scatterbrained record like this one has a 'theme'): ''Let's weather the storm just a little bit longer'. The daft 'pitter patter' harmony vocals were born for Mike to sing and do a good job of mimicking the random-yet-full-of-patterns sound of rainfall on a window-pane. Not as deep as some Beach Boys classic, but one of their very best 'simple songs' that nobody knows yet everyone should.

'My Diane' is better yet, a haunting Brian song that despite appearances was surely written for wife Marilyn Revell. Brian was very close to all three Revell sisters for a time and actually dated Marilyn's younger sibling Diane first - Brian recalling with horror in his 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' autobiog the night he accidentally called his wife by her sister's name. The truth is c learly too painful to sing, which is why Brian substitutes the name change and hands this song over to Dennis to sing. The middle Wilson brother is perfect casting for this slow-burning torturous ballad - so in keeping with his own material for 'Pacific Ocean Blue' and at the time this album was being made the soon-to-be-abandoned 'Bambuu'. In truth, by 1978 Dennis is a better writer: he's found a way of plugging into his demons and his past and admitting his guilt without it torturing him the same way it does Brian: 'Pacific Ocean Blues' almost comes with a big sign saying 'I'm sorry - but this is the way I am and I can't change it, why should I?' Brian just repeats 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm so so sorry', like Nick Clegg having a youtube enhanced breakdown (Ha! This is the last possible moment anyone reading this will remember who Nick Clegg is...) Brian will stay married to Marilyn for several years yet, but this is generally recognised as the point at which both give up all attempts ate repairing their marriage and simply live different lives in the same house. Brian is clearly less than happy with the arrangement: memories haunt him, night and day and he wonders whether his ex's detachment - so different to his own breaking heart - is good acting or whether she's 'forgotten' him already. 'Did you think that you were chained down and now that you are free...' the third verse leaves off, the question hanging unfinsihed in mid-air before Dennis returns to his repeated wail 'Everything is wrong and nothing is right, I want you back with all of my might...' Simple this song might be, in common with so many other 1970s Brian Wilson songs, but it's clearly a 'simple' of a quite different sort to what Mike and Al are writing: this is a diluted version of a pain that's almost impossible to sing about and Dennis, tapping into his brother's pain after more than  one heartbreak of his own, does the song real justice. The haunting Beach Boys harmonies are also the single best on the album, doing the opposite of what they usually do, sounding claustrophobic and depressed and as if this is the end of the world, the antithesis of the teenage dates we started with. had it not been for 'La Light' to come this would easily be the best Beach Boys album of the post-Holland 1970s, moving, real and poetic - three words you can't use to talk about any other song on this album.

'Matchpoint Of Our Love', for instance, is Brian's sillier take on his rapidly failing marriage. A comedy song sung straight - and sounding not unlike 10cc in the process - this is a disco-fied song about, erm, a tennis match. The last ball is about to be served after a lifetime of slanging matches that have been bitterly contested since the narrator and his girlfriend got together. Brian recalls how 'early in the game you broke me - just like a serve', sighs that 'we should have both walked off the court' and that even 'volleying with small talk' wouldn't put things right or delay the points served against him. 'Love is still the only game in town' Brian sings, perhaps punning on his cousin's name and the 'love' score in tennis and you could easily imagine an outtake of this silly song where Brian is singing this all in his madcap 'grinch' voice (see 1974 single 'Child Of Winter'). However the yearning, achingly beautiful middle eight makes it clear that beneath the tennis gags there's a real point to be made in this song: the sudden switch from the slow shuffle dejectedly making its way round the court to the golden, certain, hopeful narrator of the past ('No one ever held me the way you did') is a real moment of Brian Wilson magic, righting the song just when it seemed destined to sink. Alas the moment won't last, but it's magical while it's there. Yep, even when writing comedy songs about sports Brian can write a deeper song than Mike or Al trying to be serious!

Talking of which 'Winds Of Change' is a most peculiar closing number. It's an Al Jardine-Ron Altbach collaboration that tries hard to be a classic Beach Boys ballad (indeed, it's not unlike the ones Brian's been writing the past decade for his solo albums and 'That's Why God Made The Radio'). However after so much 'real' emotion it sounds more fake then ever, an off-putting treacly orchestra wrapping its way round a nursery-rhyme style melody and some soppy lyrics about everything being ok soon, honest, that's schmaltzy in the extreme. Along the way Al imagines himself as a lighthouse 'shining a light for the whole world to see' , finding 'something special in this quiet dawn' and telling us that 'the clouds have lifted, the storms have passed'. Yeah, right - The Beach Boys were never at war as hard as they were when they regrouped the following year for 'L A Light' (an album largely made in private, with only Carl there with everybody else) and the vocals of both Al and Mike sound less than convinced. And yet there's another goose-pimple Beach Boys moment when the band reprise the finale of 'When I Grow Up To Be A Man' from the position of being older, telling us sadly that 'it won't last forever' with a beautiful final 'round' that could have come from any of their past classic albums.

That's 'MIU' in a nutshell then: most of its awful, but there's just enough moments of brilliance to keep you going to the bitter end. It's a good album for Brian, actually, who with less pressure to come up with a whole album of songs and with a few years of laying off the cigarettes helping his voice at least sounds more like the Brian Wilson we all loved from the past - however horrendous his personal life still was at this point. For everyone else, though, it's a salutary lesson that The Beach Boys are doomed when they try to work in 'packs' - the strongest records post-Brian as the be all and end all of The Beach Boys are the ones like 'Sunflower' and 'Holland' and even 'L A Light' where the whole band are pulling together and giving their best, covering each other's strengths and weaknesses. Both Al and Mike have great instinctive ears for catchy chords and simple pop, but they need the depth of their bandmates to counteract this (Mike especially is always at his best making other people's work glimmer with that little something extra rather than coming up with stuff from scratch). 'MIU' is a funny old record - no album made at a Maharishi meditation retreat should ever had come up with a song as worldly and sexist as 'Hey Little Tomboy' and three barely rehashed Christmas songs is a stupid move, even for such a rushed album. However, at other times 'MIU' can take your breath away with how much it gets right - how powerful even a half-Beach Boys sound can still be and how this band still have a power like no other when the material brings out the best in all of them. MIU? Much MIs-Understood, if frequently Misguided, Inadequate and Unlistenable with Moments of Indefinable Understanding.

 Other Beach Boys related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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