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The Beach Boys - Made In California (Album Review)

Thursday, 29 August 2013 Written by James Ball

For many music fans, the promise of a 174-track collection of material by one of the world's most famous surf-pop bands is a dream come true. Knowing that the collection contains no less than 60 completely unreleased songs just puts the icing on the top of a very gooey, flavoursome cake. 

Each of the six discs on offer here portrays a different time for Brian Wilson and the band, and they continue in chronological order from their inception in the early 1960s, right up to their 50th anniversary last year.  Many of the songs featured throughout are newer or remastered mixes, but the feel of each track is still very much the same.

Disc one begins with a look back at the rehearsal process before the music starts proper. Three minutes of soundbytes from radio and practice sessions (predominately Surfin’) give an intimate feel to the collection. You’re listening to the absolute bare bones of the band before the meat of the track is added. 

Highlights here include the aforementioned opener, and the studio session version of I Get Around, where the first 45 seconds of warm-up and studio banter provides a new intro to the song. It becomes very clear at this point that this collection is a gift to the fans for 50 years of support. 

The beginning of disc two, featuring a brand new stereo version of Do You Wanna Dance? sounds crisp, clear and well produced. The immediate follow up is the mono version of Help Me Rhonda, which, as one of the band's lead singles of the era, sounds more “authentic” and rugged. There’s nothing wrong with Help Me Rhonda at all, but it works on a nostalgic level, whereas the preceding track sounded fresh and rejuvenated. Then there’s the  early version of Amusement Parks USA, another unreleased gem. The recording isn’t great, and the mix sounds a little quiet, but the song is dark and extremely trippy as a result. 

The third disc, taking material from the late '60s, contains some of the more sought after new mixes, including an alternative version of Meant for You, a longer mix than the one found on 'Friends'. It also contains a brand new stereo version of Do It Again, one that could only be made possible following the recent discovery of the master tape. Suzie Cincinnati has also been given a fresh lick of paint and sounds the better for it. 

(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again is the big draw as the collection arrives in the '70s. There have been Facebook petitions to get this song released, and those calls have finally been answered. It’s a beautiful, mournful, dynamic tear-jerker. Dennis Wilson sings his heart out here and the result is unforgettable.  

With the Beach Boys being much less active as a group in the last 30 years, it only takes 10 tracks to cover the studio sessions from the '80s to the present day. We are however treated to an alternate version of Da Doo Ron Ron with Carl taking the lead vocal spot. It’s a brand new realisation of an iconic classic, and it sounds ace. 

The real meat of this disc, however, is 'Beach Boys Live', a selection of unreleased live cuts from shows all over the USA, as well as London and Paris, from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s, and a few from the '90s. The only previously released track on offer is a rendition of Summer In Paradise from Wembley in 1993. The live recordings portray a band in their prime, performing in a tight, clean, but still very rock’n’roll way. 

Then comes the grand finale, as disc six is 'From the Vault'. Made up from radio sessions, b-sides, instrumentals, A capellas, and all sorts of other snippets, nearly all of which are being released for the very first time, this is the treasure chest all Beach Boys fans have been waiting for. The whole point of this collection is to discover a wealth of brand new material slotted in effortlessly among the songs we all know and love. It may be a year too late for the 50th anniversary celebrations, but it’s been worth the wait.


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