CD Review of Pet Sounds: 40th Anniversary by The Beach Boys

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Pet Sounds: 40th Anniversary
starstarstarstarstar Label: Capitol
Released: 2006
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Wouldn’t it be nice if labels stopped reissuing classic albums over and over, each time adding a little some different to make the fans buy it once again? Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true…but, in the meantime, it’s hard to complain too much about the 40th anniversary reissue of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

Capitol has done an exemplary job of making this particular reissue worth the fans’ while. Studio geeks will already have picked up the label’s multi-disc box set dedicated to the album, which offers the ins and outs of the creation of Brian Wilson’s masterpiece, but this provides a nice middle ground between the pre-existing single disc version and that four disc monstrosity. (Well, come on, let’s get real: you’ve pretty much gotta be some kind of 9th-level fanboy to love an album so much that you need four discs worth of it.) Included is the original album in mono, followed by the bonus track, “Hang on to Your Ego”; immediately following that, however, is the original album in stereo. Plus, there’s a bonus DVD enclosed this time around.

Okay, we know: talking too much about Pet Sounds will only bore those who aren’t already part of the album’s legion of followers...but if you’re just a casual Beach Boys fan, know that it contains the hits “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” and “God Only Knows,” as well as “Caroline No.” Still, it almost feels wrong to point out the album’s singles, given that it’s generally recognized as pop music’s first symphony, with each song only proving to be an excerpt that’s better taken as part of the whole. The rest of the Beach Boys were taken aback by Pet Sounds, and, at the time, Capitol all but recoiled in horror, having no idea how they were going to promote this. (The fact that it was viewed as a commercial failure didn’t exactly dissuade them from believing that they were right.) Fortunately, cooler heads and more appreciative ears have prevailed over the years.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is unquestionably one of the cheeriest songs Wilson has written in his career, but it’s rather an anomaly on this disc. To listen to Pet Sounds from start to finish is to go on a personal, emotional journey through the psyche of Brian Wilson. He sings of how out of place he feels in the world (“That’s Not Me,” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”), but how hopeful he is that he’ll find his place eventually (“I Know There’s An Answer”). He speaks of a relationship where he’s the weak link, and yet his other half invariably stays with him (“You Still Believe Me”)…and when she finally does get fed up, he does what he can to inspire her return (“I’m Waiting for the Day”) because he still remembers how wonderful their relationship once was and how he shouldn’t have wasted it (“Here Today”).

Most importantly, however, Brian Wilson provides his brother, Carl, with the opportunity to sing one of the most beautiful love songs in the history of music: “God Only Knows.” If you don’t know for sure if you’ve ever been in love, then read the verses of the song:

I may not always love you,
But long as there are stars above you,
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me,
Though life would still go on, believe me,
The world could show nothing to me,
So what good would living do me?
God only knows what I’d be without you

Did you get a little choked up because it made you think about someone you love and how much you love them? If you didn’t, you’re a cold-hearted bastard. It’s really just as simple as that.

So it’s settled, then: Pet Sounds is a work of genius. Now, what’s on this fabulous new DVD?

Well, first off, Pet Sounds appears in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Hi-Res 96 kHz / 24-bit PCM stereo (if you’re a music geek, this will please you immeasurably), with the song “Hang on to Your Ego” additionally appearing in mono. Karaoke fans will enjoy the fact that the lyrics to the songs appear onscreen as they play. Beyond the music, you also get a couple of documentaries. “The Making of Pet Sounds” is kind of a behind-the-scenes look at the album from the band’s perspective, including interviews with all the major players, including archival footage of Dennis and Carl Wilson – now both deceased – discussing their experiences making the record. As ever, Mike Love comes off as a smarmy bastard, but everyone else pretty much genuflects in Brian’s direction for his work on the record (particularly Al Jardine), although all of them admit that recording the vocals on the album were somewhat of a trial; Jardine refers to the experience of performing up to the expectations of Brian’s very picky ear as “exquisite torture,” while Love, somewhat less diplomatically, calls Wilson “the Stalin of the studio.”

In “Pet Stories,” Brian and his lyricist for most of the album, Tony Asher, give a more in-depth look at the making of the disc, with interviews from some of the major players in the studio, like drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, and pianist Don Randi; there are also onscreen comments from folks like Pete Townshend and Elvis Costello about how much the album affected them. (Strangely missing, however, is Paul McCartney, who has rarely missed an opportunity over the years to comment on how much he loves Pet Sounds.) The last documentary isn’t a complete one but, rather, a segment from a BBC special where Sir George Martin, the Beatles’ legendary producer, travels around and speaks to various musicians about the art of music; in this segment, he visits Brian Wilson at home and in the studio. Finally, three original 1966 promotional films are included – for “Good Vibrations,” “Sloop John B,” and “Pet Sounds” – along with “God Only Knows” synched up to a photo gallery.

It should be mentioned, however, that of the video content of the DVD, almost all of the interviews are borrowed from pre-existing DVDs that fans probably already have: “The Pet Sounds Sessions Documentary,” “Endless Harmony,” and “Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds Live In London.” Of the bunch, only the Sir George Martin documentary, “Rhythm of Life,” is probably new viewing. It’s worth noting that the “Good Vibrations” promotional film is previously unreleased as well, but, then, the song isn’t on Pet Sounds, so you have to figure that someone was really stretching to find something that fans hadn’t seen before. (“Um, well, it was recorded around the same time, so that counts, right?”)

So there you go. It’s probably been reissued and repackaged more times than you have fingers, but, well, it’s Pet Sounds; it transcends my general annoyances about such things. In fact, it’s times like this when I wish I had access to a secret sixth star, so you could bust it out and say, “Look, five stars just isn’t gonna cut it.”

But, then, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times…

~Will Harris