The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds stands as one of the greatest pop albums ever created, a lushly orchestrated masterpiece that exudes pure melody over ephemeral harmonies. Taking the pop sensibilities of his group’s past hits and looking deeper into the sun-drenched potential of their vocal abilities, Brian Wilson wove an intricate musical tapestry that was criminally underappreciated in its time, but that is now hailed as being a visionary influence on music, from the Beatles later albums through to today. Among current indie bands, Brian Wilson is considered a huge influence on music. From Beach House to Radiohead to Animal Collective, the sugary sweet harmonies and opulent arrangements of Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds are a rampant influence on today’s indie music scene.
But while the music of Pet Sounds may be beautiful to behold, the story of its creator, the Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, is fall less idyllic. Abused by his father, misunderstood by Beach Boys lyricist and Brian’s cousin Mike Love, and under pressure by a public that expected the Beach Boys to produce more songs about surfing, Brian was in a fragile state that led to his mental unraveling while working on Pet Sounds’ more avant-garde follow-up SMiLE.
Love & Mercy is the new bio-pic that depicts Wilson’s creative struggles as a twenty-something attempting to create his masterworks, portrayed by Paul Dano, and then as a shattered man attempting to gain his life back in middle age, portrayed by John Cusack. If this seems like an unlikely pairing, it’s because it is, but both actors manage to retain an emotional consistency throughout their performances that grounds the film as a depiction of a single man: A fragile genius whose greatest creative achievements led to the darkest chapter of his life.
With retro-styled footage, disturbed Beach Boys mash-ups tracks by Atticus Ross, and recreation of the fabled Pet Sounds recording sessions, Love & Mercy definitely offers a lot for anyone interested in the mythos of Brian Wilson’s music. But its really his personal story that is the film’s beating heart, and anyone interested in not only the music of Brian Wilson, but also the his incredible personal tale of a pop music visionary, should see Love & Mercy.