After anthologizing the Beach Boys' creative peak with several reissues during the '90s, Capitol turned its attention to the '70s recordings by acquiring the rights to the group's LPs for Warner/Reprise. The first fruits of this campaign arrived (after several long delays) in mid-2000, comprising a single disc with 1970's Sunflower and the following year's Surf's Up. It's a perfect place to begin, too, considering they were certainly the Beach Boys' best albums of the '70s. Sunflower especially is a beautiful work, stocked with excellent harmonies and the best songs the group had written since Pet Sounds; British critics and fans even deemed it a worthy successor. And for listeners more interested in the aborted Smile than Pet Sounds, Surf's Up is an eccentric work that displays the group's increasingly fractured genius. Even aside from the music, pairing Sunflower and Surf's Up provides a fascinating glimpse of a band in search of its identity after several years of commercial shutouts and dwindling critical interest. On Sunflower, the Beach Boys merged their fondness for sun and sand with a growing sense of their own maturity; the cover photo even features the group lounging in a park, playing with their children. Less than a year later, however, that hope for the future is not just replaced but completely obliterated for Surf's Up, as social/environmental paranoia and fatalistic resignation compete for attention on a set of skewed pop songs. These radically different struggles for attention during the early '70s -- whether to reprise the surf-and-sun sound or become a quintessentially '70s "aware" band, whether to ascend the mountain of Brian Wilson's heavenly production sense or surrender to his growing melancholia -- make for two dozen compelling tracks. It surely wouldn't have been quite as compelling if the music hadn't been able to match -- at least to a degree -- the fascinating midlife crisis going on in America's pop band.
AllMusic Review by John Bush