The Beach Boys – Friends
The sadness within The Beach Boys doesn’t smother their joy – it justifies it. After their beloved leader Brian Wilson experienced a now-legendary mental breakdown, the band pulled together to pick up the pieces. The result was some of the least self-conscious music made by a well-known band. Being born in 1992, I have no idea how these albums sounded in the late 60s, but the unabashed sentiment and off-beat sincerity is a perfect fit – a balm, even – for the modern era. If you could sum up 1968’s ‘Friends’ in one word, it might be “grateful”. It’s people leaning on each other. Brief though it is, its character is vivid. It has wounds and dreams. The nonchalant tone of Brian’s ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ hides the urgent sentiment of “Come over, I’d like to see you”; ‘Diamond Head’ is a wistful sound collage which is too strange to be cheesy, while ‘Little Bird’ sees Dennis Wilson taking and earning the spotlight in a melancholy reverie. In retrospect, one critic wrote that the “quirky gentleness” of ‘Friends’ in the era of late-60s political turmoil and social upheaval made it “about as square a peg as one can imagine”. So why does this album sound so good right now in this exhausting and seemingly hopeless time? Well, in order to make any impact on the world, we need to stick around, and the immaterial goodness that ‘Friends’ celebrates is our incentive to do so.