David Thomas and Two Pale Boys: Surf's Up (2001)

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David Thomas and Two Pale Boys: Surf's Up (2001)

It's often said the Beach Boys' Surf's Up of '71 was the album that split the band with Brian Wilson's psyched-out personality at one pole and the conservative Mike Love at the other. And the title track – written and first recorded in '66 with surreal lyrics by Van Dyke Parks – was one of those polarising songs.

It is an odd but undeniably beautiful song full of wistful nostalgia, a deep sadness and layers of meaning about the old world changing and dying. It was also one of the last songs Wilson worked on before flipping out completely and the Smile debacle.

Only someone supremely self-confident and respectful would try to cover it . . . enter David Thomas (of Pere Ubu) and Two Pale Boys.

Thomas has long been a Brian Wilson admirer and in a recent interview with Elsewhere told an interesting story about Parks and Wilson, and why he chose to cover Surf's Up.

“I love Van Dyke Parks and I love those lyrics. It's a different kettle of fish than Surfing USA.

“You know, I was supposed to ask Van Dyke Parks to produce the ['91 Pere Ubu album] World in Collision album and I went out to LA and sat in a hotel room for three days trying to get up the nerve to call him. I finally got up the nerve to call and it rang and he answered . . . and I hung up without saying anything! That is one of the regrets of my life.

“One of things that keeps me going through the long black nights of the soul is about five or six years ago Brian Wilson was bringing his thing to the Royal Festival Hall and Van Dyke was along with him. He took me backstage to meet Brian and he said to him, “Brian, I'd like you to meet the other American genius, David Thomas”.

“So all this shit I gotta deal with in order to do what we do, every so often I sit there and think, 'Van Dyke once said . .. blah blah blah'. “

The Two Pale Boys (Thomas with Keith Moline and Andy Diagram) offer a sensitive reading of the song and wisely avoid aiming for the Beach Boys-style harmonies of the original but throw attention on the melancholy at the heart of the piece.

They also bring their strangeness, but respectfully so.

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