Revisionist popular culture theories (and we can’t get enough of those, can we?) have long suggested that Brian Wilson and the most lauded tandem talents in The Beatles spent the mid-1960s engaged in a transatlantic game of ‘follow that’ one-upmanship. The fabbest two of the Fab Four set the benchmark with Rubber Soul and Revolver, prompting the stay-at-home non‑surfer to respond with Pet Sounds, which in turn inspired the English oiks to delve deeper into the toy box for Sgt Pepper.
Yet surely the most pressing concern was not looking over one’s shoulder to check out what your rivals were up to – it was more about contemplating one’s own navel and figuring out how to follow your own most recent leap and bound. Who cares if the competition raises the stakes if you aren’t holding the cards to trump your own last winning hand?
That’s the fanciful and perhaps flimsy conceit behind this compilation, bringing together 12 months of music the Beach Boys made after the last note of Pet Sounds left the stylus (Caroline Mo’, if you will). The PR bumph boasting of this collection’s numerous previously unheard tracks is a bit misleading, in that the bulk of them are merely fresh stereo mixes of songs from the Smiley Smile and Wild Honey albums.
It’s all lovely stuff and exquisitely performed, of course, rarely more so than the yearning version of Stevie Wonder’s I Was Made To Love Her and the faux soul of Darlin’, but to big it up as the next chapter after Pet Sounds serves only to burden some perfectly serviceable pop music with a benchmark it really shouldn’t be trying to reach. Don’t forget that Pet Sounds took several years to be recognised as a landmark – at the time of its release, hardly anyone spoke of rock music as something worthy of a legacy, so we really should cut these dudes some slack.
Summer dictates that Beach Boys product of some stripe is front and centre every year. This collection falls between the stools of being too normal for the serious fan and too niche for the floating voter. Nevertheless, it’s a refreshing change from the bog-standard hits compendium that usually surfs into the shops when the sun comes out.