The worlds of music criticism and music fandom aren’t necessarily as similar as some writers would like to think. This becomes especially apparent when we address older and more pop oriented acts. When it comes to the Beach Boys, their 1966 creative peak Pet Sounds is the critical holy grail. Adult themes! Left field experimentation! A theremin! What more could we ask for in a pop album?
Fans of the band (and they still have thousands) know that there is more to their talent than intentionally inventive efforts. At their heart are songs like “Surfin Safari”, “Catch a Wave”, and “Be True to Your School”, unavoidably corny tune that somehow still manage to win the listener over with dangerous levels of conviction. Frontman and lead-songwriter Brian Wilson seemed to have a strange obsession with the social workings of the early sixties, reaffirming such tropes as school spirit and the solitude of a teenager’s room. In some sense the band was committed to drawing the pleasures and pains of young life with as much emotional accuracy as possible. This means both the ecstasy of catching as well as the seemingly world-ending pain of losing your girl.
Endless Summer is a compilation of tracks released before Pet Sounds, a formative and revealing period for the band. Listening to the album, you get a sense of something lost with with Pet Sounds. The two disc set embodies a volatile combination of entirely sincere silliness and crushing ennui, a strange mix that has never been accurately replicated since. I think that the visual characterization of the music is a sad smile. The music, as a whole exudes a deep, aching, and entirely inescapable sadness even in the most pleasurable activities. Even tracks with subjects as inconsequential as “Surfer Girl” have this at their center.
With that said, over the course of this compilation, one can easily see a trackable progression toward the band’s growing conception of its own abilities, from corny tracks about surfing to devastating meditations on small and painful aspects of romance. Just right of the middle, they hit a sweet spot, melding the inevitably meaningless fun of the beach with the truest aspects of teenage angst, making them one and the same, best expressed by the songs “Don’t Worry Baby” and “You’re So Good To Me”. Endless Summer is just more proof, like Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3 mixtapes, that the climb towards a peak can often be much more fun and interesting than the peak itself.