Pet Sounds is one of those albums that deserves every single accolade it receives, and perhaps more. Brian Wilson is one of rock’s certifiable geniuses, and it doesn’t sound that far fetched to suggest he is the closest thing that rock and roll has to a Beethoven or Mozart. Even if Pet Sounds was the only album the Beach Boys ever created, their place in rock and roll history and influence on popular culture would be cemented.
When you think of Pet Sounds, the first thing that comes to mind is the production and melodies. And certainly most of its reputation is staked on that, and with good reason. Even 46 years later, the sonic production that Wilson built is staggering and mind-blowing, especially when you consider the limited technology that was available back in 1966. Each sound is built upon the other, and every single note throughout the album feels perfect. With every listen, Pet Sounds sounds familiar and comforting, but each subsequent listen reveals something more. I’ve probably listened to the album about 200 hundred times, and each experience has been different and I’ve found myself discovering a vocal part or sound I hadn’t heard before.
Aside from the production and melodies, Wilson was also interested in maturing the Beach Boys’ themes. Gone are the suntanned girls, surfboards and lazy days at the beach. The women are still present, but Wilson ponders his what he would do without love (“God Only Knows”), or what happens when love fades (“Caroline No”). Even on the opener, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Wilson looks forward to growing old. Elsewhere on “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, Wilson contemplates his own life and place in it. On Pet Sounds, it seems as if Wilson was purposely covering his emotions and questions in a sonic blanket.
With Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys raised the stakes of what an album could be and what it could sound like. Rock and roll was no longer being confined to just three chords and a bunch of guys banging away in the studio. Even the Beatles (Wilson’s biggest rivals) realized that they had to change things up a bit – which they did when they released Sgt. Pepper the following spring. It’s still an album thats influence can be heard across genres today – whether they know it or not, any electronic dance musician or rapper who uses samples is taking a page out of Wilson’s book.