For Beach Boys people - and you know who you are - "Pacific Ocean Blue" occupies a special place. Dennis Wilson's lone solo record was a revelation when it came out in 1977, a critical triumph for a man always overshadowed by brothers Brian and Carl. In the 1990s, as the CD reissue quickly fell out of print, "POB" became something more: a pricey collector's item selling for as much as $200 on
Today Legacy Recordings offers a fitting restoration, which adds a second disc of tracks largely from the late musician's aborted follow-up, "Bambu." This isn't quite like finally getting "Smile," the aborted teenage symphony Brian Wilson took nearly 40 years to complete. But "Bambu" shows that Wilson, with a little encouragement and a lot less "medicine," could have completed the transformation from goofy heartthrob into accomplished composer.
Make no mistake: The Dennis Wilson story is ultimately a tragedy, of a shaggy-haired teen idol whose steady decline left him a sweaty, swollen-faced phantom. (Wilson drowned in 1983, at 39, while diving off a friend's boat in Marina del Rey.)
The double-disc reissue captures him just before the collapse, writing steadily and surrounded by a group of crack musicians that included legendary drummer Hal Blaine and longtime Beach Boy sidemen Ed Carter and Billy Hinsche.
If you have never heard Wilson's voice, it can be startling. Brian and Carl sang like angels; Dennis was Joe Cocker on unfiltered Camels. He rarely approached the microphone during the Beach Boys 1960s commercial peak. In the 1970s, as Brian's mental illness kept him out of the studio, Dennis became an important voice. He sang lead on "My Diane," "Angel Come Home," and "Mona." His songs were often the highlights of the spottiest of records.
"POB," written by Wilson with a series of collaborators, captures the many sides of the singer. He was both a restless playboy and a desperate, quiet soul. (Remember, he reportedly smashed onetime girlfriend Christine McVie's Rolls Royce over and over, but also had a heart-shaped garden built for the Fleetwood Mac singer.) Wilson mines that conflict on a series of majestic ballads like "Time," on which, at first backed only by a piano, his moaning, aching voice builds into a breathtaking, horn-and-guitar driven finale.
The album manages to co-opt elements of the Beach Boys - soaring harmonies, tack piano, orchestral arrangements - yet doesn't particularly sound as if it were recorded by the group. There's boogie-woogie ("What's Wrong"), the kind of sweeping, raw ballads that made the ladies swoon ("Farewell My Friend"), and even a choir thrown over a guitar-driven rocker ("River Song").
There are glimmers of doo-wop and classic blues, and everything filtered through Wilson's heartbroken, lonely rasp. You can feel the aching inside the singer's voice and the darkness that increasingly washed over as the sun set on what was supposed to be an endless summer.