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Album Review: The Beach Boys – Holland

January 4, 2023

ALBUM REVIEW

The Beach Boys– Holland

OVERALL (OUT OF 10): 2

Whaddayaknow – I’m not the only blogger type who hates Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”. Click here for alphageeek’s brilliant analysis of why it is such a perfectly atrocious song: https://alfageeek.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/that-stupid-lee-greenwood-song/comment-page-1/ . And the icing on the cake is where Mr. or Ms. Geeek coined a valuable new term that describes lyrics nobody can understand that I plan on co-opting for future reviews: “mumbleverse”. What a great word! “Mumbleverse”. I’ve mentioned my own personal distaste for Mr. Greenwood’s mumbleverse-laden monstrosity on a couple of occasions, but alphageeeks’ post deftly articulates why it’s such a stupid song far better than I ever could. And as an extra bonus, one commenter added this valuable quote:

“…in my opinion, this is one of the least patriotic American songs ever written and panders to everything that is abhorrent about our country. I’ll be glad when it’s long forgotten.”

Nailed it. I’ve recently realized that on top of being mindless jingoist garbage that completely overestimates the ability of someone in the U.S to “start again” with just their “children and their wife” (ever tried it?  It ain’t so easy, not even here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The lack of a car all by itself limits Lee’s ability to “start again”.  It may well be that the “flag still stands for freedom”, but that isn’t much of a form of transportation that will get you to a well-paying job that will lift you out of poverty, is it?), it’s also a totally sexist song that “won’t forget the men who died” for our rights but evidently completely forgot about the women who died for them.  Way to disrespect our female vets there Greenwood.

I use the song as a sort of intelligence test to determine which of the people I know regularly utilize critical thinking skills.  When I find out someone hates the song, I know I am dealing with someone who engages in deep thinking about stuff and isn’t easily persuaded on a superficial level.  I’m impressed when I meet someone who can see through the false patriotism the song is shilling.  On the flip side, I can’t help but have some questions about people who love the song.  It’s a song for someone who can’t be bothered with thinking about the real reasons that America truly is great – and why it truly hasn’t been at times.  It’s a song for those are easily led and prone to emotional manipulation.  It’s a song for Americans who like feeling like they are better than people from other countries.  It’s an anthem for dumb Americans who like having their ego stroked for simply being Americans.  I personally think a person can have a strong sense of gratitude for the sacrifices of the men – and the women – who have died defending the U.S. and still see the song for the nationalistic tripe that it is.  A person can love their country and still hate idiotic songs about it.

And a person can love their country and recognize it isn’t the only worthwhile sovereign nation on the planet.  Why, even The Beach Boys, that most Red-Blooded All-American of Red-Blooded All-American bands, hailing from the surf and sand of sun-kissed California, a group as American as Uncle Sam and apple pie and Mount Rushmore all rolled into one – even they moved away from America’s freedom-blessed shores for a while.  And recorded a whole album (almost) while they were away.  That’s a pretty wild story all by itself – their manager at the time, Jack Rieley (who among other various other sins got way more hands-on with their artistic output than any manager ever should be), convinced them that since their albums weren’t selling so well in the in the U.S. in the early 70s, the smart thing to do would be to move themselves and their whole families and various employees and hangers-on and studio technicians and Brian Wilson’s entire home studio and everything to Holland.  Given how things usually played out for The Beach Boys from about 1966 on, it was pretty much the disaster you’d expect.  Holland wasn’t the paradise they thought it would be, and the resulting album, coincidentally named Holland, ended up costing around $250,000, at the time a ridiculously exorbitant sum for a band that wasn’t making hit records anymore (Wikipedia tells me that’s $1.62 million in 2021 dollars).  For all the money they spent on it the album went all the way to #36 in the U.S., barely even cracking the Top 40.  At least we got some good music out of it – you can hear the album and all kind of outtakes and bonus tracks and whatnot on the new Sail On Sailor box set, which I can absolutely guarantee I will never listen to in its entirety, but it’s sonic nirvana for those fans who can’t get enough of Holland.  They didn’t even record all of the album in Holland – they ended up going back to California to finish much of the album, which is where they probably should have just made the whole thing in the first place.  But then The Beach Boys never met a bad idea they didn’t like. 

Actually, the best song on the finished album was recorded entirely in California after Warner Brothers rejected the initial version of the album for not having an obvious hit single.  I usually hate The Suits, but they made a good call on this one, because the song the band recorded in response, “Sail On, Sailor” is a stone cold classic.  It wasn’t the hit single The Suits were looking for, but it should have been.  It starts with a stellar first verse, then that chorus sucks you right in and doesn’t let you go, even if some of the rest of the song does engage in a bit of a of mumbleverse (isn’t that a great word?) in lines like “Caught like a sewer rat alone but I sail/Bought like a crust of bread, but oh do I wail” and “Seldom stumble, never crumble/Try to tumble, life’s a rumble”.  But I can tolerate a little mumbleverse when other parts of the song are strong enough, and that chorus is simply unstoppable, it would take more than a few subpar lyrics to pull a chorus like that down. 

So the album kicks off with a strong start.  But I’m gonna lose some Beach Boys-loving friends over this, I know, because…I really don’t think the rest of the album is very good.  Nothing else on the album is nearly so focused and compelling.   There are parts of the much-ballyhooed “California Saga” that are striking – the first song in the cycle, “Big Sur” is surprisingly good considering that it was the first song that talentless chump Mike Love ever wrote all by himself.  It’s got a friendly, ambling feel to it, and I kind of like it in spite of myself.  But never fear, it was a total fluke, he’d never come up with something that listenable all by his lonesome ever again.  No doubt though, it does have a catchy melody, and certainly doesn’t collapse under its own pretensions the way “The Beaks of Eagles” does.  Holy hell, what a self-important mess.  Some of the dramatic music behind the spoken word sections is pretty, some of it gorgeous even, but I guess I don’t have near the appreciation for the Robinson Jeffers poem that Al Jardine does, with its “jagged country which nothing but a falling meteor will ever plow” and no hunters crossing the ridge “except the wing-ed ones”.  That’s “wing-ed”, pronounced like you’re reciting Shakespeare or something, or singing Neil Diamond’s “Longfellow Serenade”, where “wing-ed” sounds just as stupid.  Maybe I lack a literary mind or something, but I don’t think “The Beaks of Eagles” is good poetry.  And even if it was, Al Jardine’s and Mike Love’s flat delivery does nothing for it.  They recite it with all the gravitas of some squirrelly seventh grader called up to the front of the class to read Wilfred Owens’ magnificent “Dulce et Decorum est” (surely the greatest poem about war ever written, bar none) – what you get are grand, profoundish sentiments read aloud without emotion, passion, or inflection.  If you’re gonna recite a poem, you gotta be poetical about it.  And every so often the poetry reading is interrupted by an incongruously bright, breezy, cheery vocal section that sounds completely out of place in the solemn poeticizing that surrounds it.  It’s kind of jarring really.  And the “Get yourself in that cool cool water” in the third section of the “California Saga” sounds like a retread of “Cool, Cool Water” from Sunflower without near as much panache.  It actually sounds kind of dippy, especially with that awful low keyboard part taking the place of an actual bass.  The “California Saga” attempts to aim high, so I guess I should give the Boys some credit for having a little ambition, but they simply didn’t have the chops to pull something like that off.  It’s a misfire in my book – albeit a misfire with some interesting patches.

“Trader” has some spunk, but energy and a fairly catchy chorus is really all it has going for it.  Halfway through it slows down a bit, and loses a lot of its energy to 70s synthesizer sludge and lyrics that don’t go anywhere.  The song would have been better if they’d just ended it at the halfway mark before it descended into elevator muzak monotony.  I think the song is okayish, not really the classic some people make it out to be.

Nothing else on the album really aspires to much.  “Steamboat” is a sleepy song with nonsensical lyrics, some steamboat sound effects, and some screechy, grating, not-quite-in-key steel guitar that merely serves to keep the listener from falling asleep out of sheer boredom.  Not sure what the point of this song is supposed to be – nothing about the lyrics grabs you, they don’t make a lick of sense, and are pretty much forgettable:  “Steamboat of living ever faithfully ride”.  “The creek is a trumpet of hard times/Blowing tasty days”.  Whatever. This one’s a snoozer, although the “Don’t worry mister Fulton” section does have a somewhat interesting melody for a couple of seconds, but then that damn “can’t quite find a note that works” guitar comes in, and then Mr.Fulton comes back and completely wears out his welcome at the end of the song.

“Leaving This Town” is mostly just plodding piano chords with “sometimes it’s hard (fill in the blank)” lyrics and soulful singing without much in the song to be all that soulful about.  Nothing about the song really grabs me, and it has about the most melody-less Moog solo I’ve ever heard.  “Only With You” has a fairly similar level of drabness, with more plodding piano chords.  Actually, these two songs are two peas in a pod musically, and if you love one, you’ll love the other. Personally, both of them bore me.  “All I want do-hoo, is spend my life you-hoo…”.  There’s no real beauty, nothing really moving about these songs – the soulful singing is nice I suppose, but it’s not enough to carry these songs.  The violin in “Only With You” was a nice touch, unfortunately it’s wasted in this song.  Then there’s “Funky Pretty”, with its somewhat annoying synthesizer sounds, awkward pauses, threadbare arrangement, incomprehensible lyrics, and endless “I still remember funky pretty”s that feel like they go on forever at the song’s close.  It sounds pretty unfinished, like a demo, but then I don’t really think it would have been worth the trouble to finish this one properly, so that’s OK.  As it is, they put more effort into it than it was worth.   And to top it all off, the song uses that phrase “cosmically conscious”. Ugh.

Do we consider “Mount Vernon and Fairway” part of the album?  Nobody but Brian really wanted to include its sophomoric fairy tale silliness involving a “glowing magic transistor radio”, which is why it was included as a separate EP when the album was released instead of being on the album proper.  Tell you what, let’s just consider it a bonus track and ignore it.  Because it deserves to be thoroughly ignored.  Unless you happen to like having your intelligence insulted.

I know this is a disappointing assessment for a lot of you Beach Boys fans, and I don’t mean to be a jerk about it.  But all in all, I find it to be a mixed album that has its moments, but it’s not something I ever bother listening to.  I feel kind of bad that the guys went all the way to Holland to make an album and this was all they had to show for it.  For the most part Holland is pleasant, but not particularly interesting.  Hard core Beach Boys fans generally consider it their truly last classic album, but I think they are being way too generous.  This isn’t even close to a Sunflower or Surf’s Up level album.  At the time Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the five best albums of 1973, but I mean really, is the album anywhere close to a Dark Side of the Moon or a Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?  A There Goes Rhymin’ Simon or a Houses of the Holy?  An Innervisions or a Quadrophenia? A Billion Dollar Babies or a Selling England by the Pound?  Not sure what the editors of Rolling Stone were smoking in those days, but Holland is nowhere near as classic as any of those albums.

I know a lot of Beach Boys fans love this album.  I wish I did too.  I just don’t get it, I’ve listened to it over and over for several days straight and I just can’t get into it.  Except “Sail On, Sailor”, which is awesome, and “Big Sur”, which is actually pretty good.  The rest is pretty meh in my book.  But hey, at least there isn’t a song on the album that is even close to being as awful as “God Bless the U.S.A”, so there’s that anyway.

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11 responses to “Album Review: The Beach Boys – Holland”

  1. Well that was a fun read. Not. can’t please everyone I suppose, but as a long standing Beach Boys fanatic Holland is up there as one of my favourites. No apologies!

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  2. This is a totally valid, fair assessment, and I respect you a lot for putting it out there, since you don’t usually see too much criticism of this one. To be honest, while I love the album overall, I agree with some of what was said here. “Sail On, Sailor” is fantastic, and “The Trader”, “Leaving This Town”, “Funky Pretty”, “Big Sur” and “California” are all songs I love dearly, though when I really think about it, I’d concede that only “Sail On, Sailor” and “Big Sur” (and maybe “The Trader”) are top-tier Beach Boys tracks (and even then I prefer the Surf’s Up outtake version of Big Sur on the Feel Flows set to this version.) As for the other songs, the poem is admittedly kind of nonsensical, it’s just there as a bridge, and I’m not the biggest fan of “Only With You” and “Steamboat” either (though ironically Brian Wilson has said those two are among his favorites from the album, along with “Funky Pretty”.) Maybe Dennis should’ve sang them, though either way it’s rare that his songs are the weak points of a Beach Boys album, but they are here. (He does sing, with Blondie, the outtake “Carry Me Home”, a song her wrote about Vietnam that I think would’ve tired with Sail On Sailor as the best song on the album had it been included, you should check it out.) Good review, thank you.

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    • Thanks. I need to check out “Carry Me Home”, I will have to give that one a listen when I get home. I’d agree, it IS rare for Dennis’ albums to be the weak points on a Beach Boys album, usually you could count on him to come up with a couple of album highlights.

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  3. Beach Boys “Holland”?! Out of the thousands of records you could review you choose this? I mean that’s about as obscure and uninteresting as they come! Please give us something a little more intriguing than some hardly known album by a 60 year old band. here’s a few suggestions from my past favorites traffic John barleycorn Aerosmith get your wings Jeff Beck blow by blow Blue Öyster Cult agents of Fortune….The list goes on but Holland ?sorry but that’s lame.

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    • Well, I get that Holland isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. To hard core Beach Boys fans Holland is kind of a big deal, but I know that isn’t everybody. I actually reviewed it because I had a comment a couple of months ago asking if I was going to. Tell you what, I’ve always meant to give Blow by Blow a good listen, and Get Your Wings is certainly review-worthy, and I’ve never done early Aerosmith I don’t think – I will do both of them sometime in the next month or two. Sound fair?

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