The Beach Boys' recent 50th anniversary tour had its ups and downs. First Brian Wilson said he wasn't going to re-join the group. Then he agreed. The reunited band played Good Vibrations during the Grammy Awards—with a few technical difficulties and universal acclaim. Then the band hit the road, where they took a little heat for creakiness. Then came unnecessary political comments by band members and recent reports that Mike Love had fired Brian from the group, which Love subsequently denied.
Lost in the all the dust and drama was news that two new Beach Boys CD packages were on their way: 12 albums remastered and issued in glossy mini LP gatefold covers and a greatest hits box (The Beach Boys: Fifty Big Ones) with tracks plucked from the fresh remasterings.
Both packages were released yesterday by EMI and I must say the results are a vast improvement over the previous sets re-issued in 1999. I've given the new releases several hard listens, comparing them with earlier issues, and found the clarity on the new tracks startling. Even more exciting is all of the new information displayed on the latest remasters. You actually can hear instruments you never even knew existed on the originals, resulting in a greater appreciation for Brian's layered rock-meets-harmony vision.
The dozen album reissued are Surfin' USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down Vol. 2, All Summer Long, Summer Days (And Summer Nights), Beach Boys Today!, Beach Boys Party!, Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Sunflower and Surf's Up—the meat of the band's catalog.
What makes the individual album releases particularly special is that 10 of them feature mono and stereo album tracks back-to-back (Sunflower and Surf's Up weren't recorded in mono.) If you dig the Beatles' The Capitol Albums box sets released in 2004 and 2006, which paired their mono and stereo recordings, you'll love these.
The new Beach Boys' releases have been remastered by Mark Linett [pictured above], who mastered the 1999 sets. But here, Linett has managed to tease out and define the mid-range and brighten the top and bottom, making them more distinct. On earlier versions, mid-range instrumentation tended to bleed together and fade off. Not here. Everything rings like a bell.
The group's rich vocal harmonies also benefit from the latest remasterings, providing a wider, warmer sound—particularly on the mono recordings, which purists find best capture an artist's original intent and ability without the magic trick of stereo.
In some cases the featured material has not been previously released in the digital age. For example, mono tracks on many of the albums have never been issued on CD, while stereo remixes for Summer Days (And Summer Nights) and Beach Boys Today! are only now seeing the light of day.
And there's something delightfullly complete and scholarly about featuring mono tracks followed by stereo versions. Not only are you able to compare the two but you gain further insight into an album's development by forcing your ear to distinguish between the two and appreciate the nuanced differences.
Which brings us to Pet Sounds, widely regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of the '60s. The new release is more vivid than the 1999 release, with the instrumental textures better delineated, allowing you to hear yet another layer of this magnificent work. Interestingly, while Linett is credited alone for remastering the other albums, the credit on Pet Sounds reads, "Produced and mixed by Mark Linett under the supervision of Brian Wilson." The master still has a hand in.
As for those who dismiss the Beach Boys as bland, mainstream and emblematic of a conformist strip-mall culture, I would urge you to suspend those assumptions. If you simply listen to what's going on in these discs as a constructionist adventure, you'll likely to find enormous value. Artists like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Brian Wilson all were tortured souls in different ways, making their works pained expressions and impossible to ignore.
JazzWax tracks: The 12 individual albums mentioned above are sold individually as CDs. I suspect many will want to buy Pet Sounds first to size up the new collection. You'll find the new Pet Sounds here.