Best Coast’s debut album Crazy For You was a landmark release. Few albums have felt more effortless or naturalistic. Lead singer Beth Cosentino was almost lazily genuine, and refreshingly frank. It was as if the chronically stoned star had been grabbed from the beach, placed in front of a microphone, and left to babble in a vaguely cathartic stream of consciousness. The result was an instantly quotable album that felt like the most charmingly sun soaked mental breakdown in pop history. The plain speaking and definitely un-poetic songwriter proved instantly endearing. It was palpable, you could practically feel thousands of heads nodding in unison as Beth cooed: “My Highs Are High, My Lows Are Low, And I Don’t Know Which Way To Go…I Don’t Know How I Feel”.
Sophomore LP The Only Place feels anything but effortless. Rather than flying (stumbling?) by the seat of her pants, Beth seems laboured, even her casual croon appears riddled with doubt and second-guessing. Much of this newfound head scratching is by design as Beth explains on “Better Girl”:
“It’s No Fun When I’m Always Alone, And It’s No Fun When I’m Always At Home, And It’s No Fun When Your Laughing At Me…You’ve Got To Keep Me Away From What They Say About Me”
In one fell swoop Beth deftly delivers an effective take on the most tiresome celebrity conceit. By employing universal simplicity, a natural comparison is drawn between snide gossip of friends and the “misery” of life under the microscope of the limelight. It’s one of the album’s finest moments; sadly it’s a trick Beth cannot repeat on the ponderous ballads “No One Like You” and “How They Want Me To Be”. Straight-faced grandstanding simple doesn’t suit her. The more grave Beth’s subject matter becomes the more flimsy her stained “ooohs” and teenage diary rhymes appear.
It’s astounding just how detrimental an effect removing the weed and barmy cat references has had on Best Coast. Their pop sensibilities remain intact, and Beth can’t go two minutes without stumbling across an endearing hook, but she makes hard work of it. “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To” feels like a flat out apology, it has all the classic Best Coast hallmarks, and is one of the record’s best efforts, but it’s hard to look beyond the lines: “I Wake Up To The Morning Sun, When Did My Life Stop Being So Fun”.
A chronically depressed Beth simple isn’t fun. She’s still charming, and improbably catchy, but with the exception of “Let’s Go Home” she can’t ignite the simplistic spark that made Crazy For You irresistible. Thankfully, “The Only Place” points the way to the band’s renewal. Like the Beach Boys before them, the route to greatness lies not in more intricate song writing (Mike Lowe never gave Dylan pause), but in the beauty of their arrangements and the powerful immediacy of their sentiments. Pinpoint pop not pained expression is Best Coast’s game, and as Beth says herself, why would she want to write about anything else: “We’ve Got The Ocean, Got The Babes; Got The Sun, We’ve Got The Waves, This Is The Only Place For Me”.
Buy If: You’re in the mood for some quick fire surf pop that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Skip If: You want ocean and the waves not the tears and the pain.
Best Track: “The Only Place”
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