Friends captures a gentleness from Brian Wilson, making it one of the last Beach Boys albums dominated by his vision. There are two different schools of thought about this album – either it’s one of the most coherent and unified albums in The Beach Boys catalogue, full of charm and melody, or it’s relatively lightweight and insubstantial. I’m part of the second camp; while Beach Boys’ strengths like warm vocals and strong melodies are present here, so are weaknesses like ridiculous lyrics (‘Anna Lee, The Healer’), and no single song individually measures up among the group’s best.
As such, it’s hard to pick out the key tracks on Friends; the Carl Wilson-sung title track was chosen as the single, but it stalled at #47, the worst charting Beach Boys single since 1962, perhaps due to its unconventional waltz feel. Brian and Carl share lead vocals on ‘Wake The World’ and ‘Be Here In The Morning’, two of the more substantial tracks on the record. The emergence of Dennis Wilson as a writer is easily the most interesting aspect of this record; while his material isn’t particularly ambitious, his emotional voice makes ‘Be Still’ and ‘Little Bird’ the most meaningful and resonant songs on the album, admittedly not a difficult feat when Brian is busy writing about his uncrowded personal schedule (‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’) and Mike about his masseuse (‘Anna Lee, The Healer’).
Friends does have continuity and a quaint charm to recommend it, but it’s largely unsatisfying; the product of one of pop music’s most talented figures unwilling or unable to challenge himself any further and settling down into a predictable routine.