Carl Wilson – “Youngblood” (1983)

May 13, 2010 at 6:55 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Beach Boys)

After the minor success of Carl Wilson’s 1981 self-titled debut solo album, he was determined to make a name for himself outside of his role with The Beach Boys, whom he felt were becoming increasingly irrelevant as a creative force due to Mike Love’s desire to steer the band down the path of a nostalgia-peddling oldies act.

Oldest brother Brian, the former undisputed leader and genius of the band was still struggling with longtime substance and mental issues during this time and, after a few years back at the helm, was, once again, unwilling and unable to lead the band. Middle brother Dennis, who nobody ever seemed to take seriously, despite his obvious songwriting talents, was deep into his alcoholic decline which would result in his accidental drowning by the end of 1983 at the age of 39. Carl, who seemed to be the only member of the band left who showed any desire to keep them moving ahead as a creative force, was outnumbered by the more conservative factions in the band, and had too much of an easygoing personality to force the issue. He simply bowed out when the fighting got too intense and his peacemaking efforts failed.

So after coming out with his uneven but mostly solid first effort, he settled down to the task of recording album #2. He decided not to use hitmaking producer and longtime band associate Jim Guercio this time around, and went with Jeff Baxter as producer. Also, unlike the first album, Carl decided to record some oldies along with a handful of originals. Unfortunately, he seemed to be trying too hard, like Carlos Santana and many others during this time, to get a hit single at all costs with big-name producers – even at the risk of losing what made them special in the first place. They were clearly aiming for the AOR market that was big at the time. On Carl’s first album, his personality still came through, if only sporadically, and he recorded some genuinely excellent songs. On Youngblood, though, he went in more of a generic hard rock direction that wasn’t really his forte, as well as also going the MOR adult contemporary route on the ballads.

It’s sad that he chose to use outside producers on both of his albums and not do the job himself, since he clearly showed immense talent in that regard. What’s also unfortunate is that Carl never went solo in the late-‘60s-early-‘70s when he was writing and producing some of his best songs. I guarantee the songwriting and production would have been much more creative and organic-sounding during that time than it is here. Corporate AOR rock didn’t exist yet, and music wasn’t so sterile and overproduced like it became by the following decade. Carl, along with Dave Davies of The Kinks, simply waited too long to finally step out of the shadows of their more famous brothers. By the time the spotlight was directly on them, it appeared they didn’t really have anything left to say, or else decided to bury their creativity and go for the overly-commercial and slick hard rock sound that dominated early-‘80s radio.

Don’t get me wrong – a lot of that type of music was enjoyable, if on a superficial level, but with someone like Carl Wilson, you simply hoped for more. Still, it’s never right to judge someone by what you think they should be doing – you have to judge them by the terms they have set for themselves, as well as the fashions that were popular at the time. Besides, who’s to say that the music Carl created on his own wasn’t a genuine reflection of his musical tastes? Judging the album on its own terms, though, I have to say that, unfortunately, it wasn’t really all that good, even within the boundaries of said genres.

The first two songs rock out in a generic, overheated way. It could be just about anyone recording this stuff. And why did every producer of that time feel the need to use cheesy-sounding synths and generic, sub-Sanborn saxophones in every other song? His version of the 1975 John Fogerty song “Rockin’ All Over the World” is better but still doesn’t compete with the original.

The ballads are on the sappy side and don’t hold a candle to the previous album’s “Heaven.” His cover of Leiber & Stoller’s “Young Blood” (surprisingly spelled as one word in the album title) is good. It could have been a bit stronger but is enjoyable nonetheless. One of the better songs on the album, surprisingly, is the last song, “Time,” which resembles REO Speedwagon, of all groups. It might sound like a Kevin Cronin knockoff, but it resembles one of his better tunes, and ends the album on a somewhat positive note. It clearly doesn’t erase the fact that this album was a disappointment for Carl Wilson fans though.

Is this it worth a listen if you are a fan of his? Definitely — anything Carl sang is worth hearing. If it were to finally come out on CD, should you go buy it? Perhaps. Is it something you will listen to often? Hardly.

By the time this album had come out, Carl returned to The Beach Boys and resigned himself to living out the rest of his days playing golden oldies to fans who didn’t seem to mind. In 1985 they came out with their final album of all-new material (and final one featuring Brian), a slick self-titled release, which Carl had a big hand in, and whose songs are better than anything here. Still, Carl, unfortunately, never followed through on the strong early promise he showed in the early ‘70s. Perhaps living in his older brothers’ shadows (especially Brian’s), as well as letting Mike Love take over in the later years, was too stifling for him. I think under different circumstances he could have been much more than just a brilliant singer. Then again, what’s so bad about that? When given the right material, Carl was simply one of the best.

Jay Mucci

3 Comments

  1. Angelo said,

    This is a truly very good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the finest bloggers I ever saw.Thx for posting this useful blog post. My kindest regards, Angelo.

  2. LARRY P said,

    iI just pulled out the old turntable to play his first solo album (niether have been available on CD) and was amazed at how good his voice sounded..now I’m looking for the Youngblood album…

    • jmucci said,

      I believe they just released “Youngblood” on CD a couple of weeks ago, but for some unexplainable reason, they didn’t release his first album, as well. It’s the better album, too.

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