Dennis Wilson had to wait for brother Brian to collapse under the weight of the Beach Boys hit machine before he could develop as a songwriter. The surfing drummer possessed depth that no one expected and he demonstrated some of his brilliance on Beach Boys songs like Forever and Little Bird. But it is on his first (and only) completed album Pacific Ocean Blue that Dennis Wilson showed what he is capable of producing and the results are heavy, deep and spiritual.
The River Song sets the tone with a pleasant piano opening that signals an upbeat tone but the lyrics belie the undercurrent of the not so glamorous life in Los Angeles. The choir added to the song turns it into a gospel like swell that is both beautiful and kind of melancholy. In Dreamer Dennis sings about the rough road to happiness which he personally struggled with despite acquiring fame and fortune. “Do you wonder where you are, Wake up in bed with a star, that was easy.” The haunting Farewell My Friend was the song played at his funeral but even without that knowledge the song feels like an epic goodbye. Even some of the more upbeat songs have an added edge to them with Dennis’ voice providing the tension. These songs are not teenage symphonies these are adult explorations with themes as big as the ocean and it is the greatest record I have personally experienced. It is the small details that set this album apart particularly the backing vocals. As a Beach Boy, Dennis certainly had a strong grasp on the importance of harmony but on these tunes he carries the burden and the background singers provide the depth. The CD reissue included Bamboo, his unfinished album and those tracks show how much detail Dennis added to complete Pacific Ocean Blue and all the layers that make it such a spiritual experience. Dennis could have gone on to be an elder statesman for deeply felt music geared toward the soul. Instead, he will probably be known as a man who found his muse too late to be fully appreciated and Pacific Ocean Blue will have to be his only proof that there was so much more substance to the man that was just hiding beneath the surface.