Thursday, March 1, 2001

PET SOUNDS - The Beach Boys (1966)

Born of Brian Wilson's never ending desire to one up the Beatles following their release of Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds is now widely regarded as The Beach Boy's crowning achievement and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, albums of all time (it presently holds the number one position at, the best "best of" list aggregator on the Internet). 

Personally, I challenge that status a tiny bit.

I've never felt it's as strong an album as some of the other all-time classics - put it head to head, track by track, against Highway 61 Revisited, Revolver, Are You ExperiencedThe Velvet Underground and Nico, Astral Weeks, The Stooges, Born To Run, London Calling, OK Computer, etc., and it just doesn't feel cut of quite the same stuff.

But there's no denying its status, like Love's Forever Changes or Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On, as one of the all-time great mood albums, its broad influence (Sgt. Peppers and recent classics like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, and Fleet Foxes are unimaginable without it), or most significantly, what a landmark it was in the advancement of recording technique.

Taking Phil Spector's wall of sound concept to new limits, and adding in all manner of "non-instrumental" sounds as well (the "pet sounds" of the album's title),Wilson layered track upon track upon track to attain a level of instrumental depth, precision, and clarity never before heard.  It all added up to a gorgeous, fragile, melancholy sound the perfectly mirrored the album's bittersweet, coming-of-age lyrics, and made Pet Sounds the de facto gold standard for studio production until Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band wrested that distinction away a year down the line.

And while I stick to my assertion that most of its songs are more of the very good, not great, variety, Pet Sounds's best tracks (Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, Caroline No, and especially the beyond perfect ballad God Only Knows) rank with the best pop music by any artist in any era...and that great production and those phenomenal signature Beach Boy harmonies elevate everything on this album into a wonderfully cohesive whole.

Now offered on a digitally remastered CD with both the full set of mono and stereo mixes, as well as a few alternate takes, I recommend this album to absolutely every reader who hasn't already made Pet Sounds a part of their permanent collection.

It truly is one of the definitive touchstones of contemporary music.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, God Only Knows, Caroline No.

Here's the video for an early lip-synced performance of God Only Knows.

Component Breakdown (of original release)
7. Sloop John B - 10
10. Here Today - 8
12. Pet Sounds - 9
13. Caroline No - 9
Intangibles - Very High

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