Does the world need another Beach Boys anthology? Probably not, but since the already superfluous Sounds of Summer collection was a hit for Capitol back in 2003, it's clear the band's substantial catalog is capable of withstanding at least one more good pillaging. So for Summer '07, here's The Warmth of the Sun (Capitol/EMI), a "complementary" collection of Wilson Bros. tracks "compiled and sequenced by the Beach Boys themselves."
Lovers of the band will already have all of this stuff, though a few are making their first appearance in stereo, if that floats your board. (I listen to 75% of my music on an old Sony Mega Bass Port CD player, so the mono v. stereo thing doesn't meant that much to me.) What's more intriguing about the set is the fact that – having exhausted all the big hits in Sounds (with the exception of "409") – the boys are left to cull choice cuts from the years when most of their non-hardcore fans were no longer listening to the band's new releases and largely contenting themselves with 70's era best-of sets like Endless Summer.
At least half of the material in Warmth comes out of the Brother Records era – when the band struggled for a time with only marginal contributions from flaked-out brother Brian and brought in a succession of bright young session Boys (Bruce Johnston, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar) to fill in the gap. The Brother Era saw a profound lyrical shift in the group, too – which is neatly demonstrated through Warmth’s sequencing. The disc's first songs (with a track from the calculatedly retro 15 Big Ones tossed in just to confuse the issue a mite) focus on the fun/fun/fun middle-class life of Southern Cal circa the middle sixties, but as the set takes us into the Spector-styled flourishes of Pet Sounds precursors like Today and Summer Days (And Summer Nights) (both well repped on this collection), the lyrical concerns begin to shift. In place of paeans to the Babes of Hawaii, we get middle-aged anxiety ("Disney Girls (1957)," "'Til I Die"), alliteration-crammed attempts at evoking the universal whatsit ("Feel Flows") and ecological messages ("Don't Go Near the Water"). If the results occasionally sound goofier than songs about a "groovy little motor bike," well, part of the band's greatness has been its ability to – for the space of a song, at least – make us accept the dopiest lyrics possible.
To my ears, the BBoys' attempts at Growing into the Seventies stand up better than many of the rock artistes who were actually outselling 'em back in the day. A big key to this success is the group's unfailing skill with barbershop & doo-wop harmonies: a talent that makes even an icky exercise like Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" sound sweet. The seventies saw the band incorporating slightly longer guitar breaks and even an occasional slice of fusion, but, unlike many of their peers, they generally kept these additions in check: lyrically, "All This Is That" (the gang's attempt at an "Across the Universe" cosmic statement) may be nonsense, but its shimmering sound is well-nigh irresistible.
So . . . does the world really need another Beach Boys collection? Tell ya what: I'd rather pass a copy of this set to a novice than I would any of the myriad collections of their overplayed Oldies-But-Goodies – if only so my imaginary novice can experience Sunflower's sublimely Zen Dumb "Cool Cool Water." Still one of the high spots of seventies rock lyricism for this fan – at least 'til Jonathan Richman & the Ramones trounce onto the music scene . . .