Brian Wilson’s magnum opus, Pet Sounds mixed introspective lyrics with innovative instrumentation and Spector-inspired recording techniques, and topped them off with The Beach Boys lush harmonies. There are a couple of bright poppy songs on Pet Sounds that smell like concessions to record company demands for singles – ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Sloop John B’, both among their most famous songs – but the rest of Pet Sounds is moodier and subtler. ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’ and ‘Here Today’ are stuffed with melodies and hooks and work perfectly as pop songs accordingly, but they’re also far more layered; there is a lot of innovative orchestration and sound-scaping, with Wilson employing unlikely instruments such as Coke cans (which provide percussion on the title track) and an early appearance of the Theremin.
Although Wilson collaborated with lyricist Tony Asher, there’s a definite sense that Asher was only helping Wilson to express his innermost emotions; although all of The Beach Boys are vocally present, Brian takes most of the leads. The notable exception is key ballad ‘God Only Knows’, a beautiful spotlight for Carl Wilson, but it’s the resignation of ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ that is Brian’s definitive statement. Pet Sounds also features a pair of memorable instrumentals, particularly the superb ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’, and closes with a perfect, soaring ballad ‘Caroline No’.
Pet Sounds has a mysterious beauty that places it above criticism, and if you have any interest in pop music you need this album, even if it takes a few years to sink in.