Mike Love

Unleash the Love

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In some bands, somebody has to be the tough guy who gets stuff done, even if other folks don't like it. While Mike Love was the frontman and frequent lead vocalist in the Beach Boys from the beginning, the group's creative soul belonged to Brian Wilson, their main songwriter, producer, arranger, and harmony enthusiast. As brilliant as Wilson was (and still is), someone needed to be the guy who cracked the whip and saw to it that they delivered a saleable product, both on-stage and in the studio, and that was where Love excelled. Consequently, there is a wide divide of opinions about Mike Love; casual fans see him as the cheery guy who delivers a well-oiled entertainment machine that plays the sheds every summer, while those who revere the Beach Boys' more ambitious work, such as Pet Sounds and Smile, revile Love as the guy who lacked an understanding of Brian's vision and turned the band into a hollow oldies act. Love is also something of an enigma musically, having released only one solo album (1981's Looking Back with Love) in a career that's spanned six decades. He's doubled his solo output with the arrival of 2017's Unleash the Love, a two-disc set that features a batch of new tunes along with remakes of venerable Beach Boys hits. If this album gives us a clearer picture of Love's own musical world view, it's one troublingly lacking in depth. Most of disc one is devoted to bland pop numbers that sound numbingly formulaic in both concept and execution ("All the Love in Paris" is built around a sax solo from Dave Koz that makes Kenny G sound like Albert Ayler), and his numbers about environmentalism and world peace boast all the sincerity of a TV public service announcement. Disc two features new recordings of old Beach Boys hits (most of which feature lyrics by Love and music by Wilson), and while the songs are much better, the arrangements sound like the work of a Beach Boys tribute band struggling to work up the enthusiasm to play the fourth set of the night. At his best, Love's voice had a tendency to sound nasal, but on these recordings (released when he was 76 years old), his instrument sounds brittle and his range has narrowed enough that he hands the lead vocals over to others on two tracks. One wonders who the intended market is for a version of "Do It Again" that features no one named Wilson but does include Mark McGrath. And the presence of a new recording of "Brian's Back," Love's '70s tribute to a guy he has since chosen not to work with, is nothing short of confounding. Lackluster as music and downright puzzling as a cultural artifact, Unleash the Love confirms that whatever you think of Mike Love's 21st century edition of the Beach Boys, he's better off doing that than trying to make music by himself.

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