Talk about an about face: I was ready to declare Best Coast’s last album the greatest record of all time moments after succumbing to its immediate charms. I was preparing for a similar infliction with The Only Place, Best Coast’s sophomore album, an effort that sees jack-of-all-trades Jon Brion tweaking the band’s surf rock worship into the posher confines of a more upscale zip code.
And by doing so, Brion completely dismantles every hint of charm, transforming The Only Place into a forgettable piece of polished mope, highlighting Bethany Cosentino’s discontent with her recent brush with fame thanks to Crazy For You.
If the bear on the cover doesn’t clue you in, Bethany will profess her love of the Golden State with about as much intelligence as Miss California’s question and answer section during the Miss America pageant. “We have fun / We have fun / We have fun when we please.” She tells us during the title track, adding, “We’ve got the ocean / We’ve got the sun / We’ve got the waves.” As appealing as that all sounds, it doesn’t hold a candle to Brian Wilson’s simple declaration of “two girls for every boy” which was good enough for most boys to head for the coast with just the shirt on their backs.
Why would you live anywhere else? To avoid having to listen to Cosentino’s lyrics, for one.
Again, I fell head over heels for Crazy For You, including its inadequacies, so I’m not expecting her to turn into Joni Mitchell. What I didn’t expect was Brion to place Bethany front and center in the mix, neglecting the entire dream-girl fantasy that she conjured up underneath all that echo and reverb just a few years ago. Now she seems like any other California girl: made-up, plastic, and with very little personality to draw listeners in.
And what’s with all the moping? Before, the self-loathing was trying to nab a dude’s attention, but now it’s all about “my life, my life, my life” as she mutters on, yep, “My Life.”
Guitarist Bobb Bruno is lost within Brion’s banana hands over the guitars and gear he’s earmarked for each verse and chorus. The entire thing sounds like it was storyboarded to death with rhythms full of light ‘n airy complacency and guitars that never show much attitude for their part either. Bruno’s now become a session player, forgoing any voice he mustered previously and letting Brion turn him into a silent partner that only the fine print of the liner notes identifies.
Ironically, The Only Place uses the same old school paradigm that a major label would have used in introducing the first major label record from some underground darlings in an attempt for mass consumption. But since it’s coming from independent means already, the only excuse left for Best Coast is that all of that California sun seems to have baked away all of their charm and creativity, leaving outside influences with the duty of lathering on the sunscreen to cover it all up.