Albums of 2008: Day 2 – Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue / Bambu

Yes, this is a reissue, but I’ve been basking in lots of ’70s sounds lately, so I’d like to squeeze this in as an ’08 great. Pacific Ocean Blue, Dennis’ debut solo album, came out in 1977 and was the result of his efforts since the beginning of the decade to strike out on his own. Bambu was the slated follow-up but, due to ongoing Beach Boys projects and Dennis’ increasing substance abuse and instability, it’s tunes never saw release until they were tacked onto this year’s reissue.

Pacific Ocean Blue falls into territory similar to albums like Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On and Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night. That is, it’s a pensive and serious follow-up to a period of more mainstream, pop-minded musical success. Third/Sister Lovers was Alex Chilton’s twisted but genius reaction to the slick cash-in potential that people saw in #1 Record and Radio City. Riot replaced Sly’s previous pop optimism on Stand! with a more ominous and blunt message. Young’s Tonight took a darker route than his earlier hit albums. And Pacific Ocean Blue finds Dennis Wilson taking a rockier, wistful and more demanding road than the Beach Boys.

Like those other albums, Pacific has a fair amount of underlying grit and drama that makes it both vaguely discomforting and enticingly genius. In 1968 Dennis picked up a couple hitchhikers and soon found the Manson Family inhabiting his house. Manson and Co. would go on to commit gruesome murder the following year, a subject that understandably haunted Wilson in the years that followed. Wilson was also sinking into drug use and increasingly erratic behavior in the late ’70s, evidenced by the abandonment of Bambu and the tumultuous nature of his brief relationship with Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie. Pacific Ocean Blue, then, is a pristine sea with deep and dangerous waters below the surface—an undertow that would eventually bring Dennis Wilson down with it. He drowned at Marina del Rey in California in 1983 at age 39.

Listen to “River Song” on YouTube.

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