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The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds Print E-mail
Monday, 08 September 2003

The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds
format: DVD-Audio
label: EMI Records
release year: 2003
performance: 9
sound 7.5
reviewed by: Tim Hart

ImageGrowing up, I wasn’t a big fan of the Beach Boys. Granted, they were a bit before my time, and I didn’t pay much attention to their work. Oddly enough, I became interested in them through the Beatles stuff. What’s the tie-in, you ask? Well, a bit of history may be in order.

The year was 1966, and The Beach Boys, with big brother Brian Wilson, had created a constant stream of hits that put them firmly at the top of the American pop charts. Their songs “Surfer Girl”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, and “I Get Around” were all Top 40 hits. “Don’t Worry, Baby” is arguably one of the biggest hit singles of all time. With their trademark jazz-influenced, layered harmonies and fun in the sun themes, you could not mistake their unique sound.

After extensive touring and a breakdown in 1964, Wilson quit the road to focus on making music. Inspired by the interesting and stimulating effect the Beatles’ Rubber Soul had on him, he felt compelled to write, arrange and compose in a very different style than that of the Beach Boys’ prior releases. Wilson wanted to write what he termed as “sophisticated-feeling” music, hoping to tap into his inner soul and emotions. Rubber Soul was the catalyst that propelled Wilson to embark on what would eventually become Pet Sounds. Sir Paul McCartney himself said that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a direct response to Pet Sounds, spawning a renaissance in the music industry.

When Wilson started writing the melodies for Pet Sounds, he employed the help of lyricist Tony Asher to help him underscore in words what he hoped would match his vision of his music. What came out of his writing sessions was what would be termed a concept album. No longer were the themes about the surf dream lifestyle, hot rods and high school cuties. Asher and Wilson tapped the inner angst of a frustrated adolescent dealing with anxiety, malaise and self-doubt. Because of this radical change from their previous hits, Pet Sounds was undoubtedly bittersweet for the Beach Boys. A groundbreaking effort that highlighted Wilson’s arranging and compositional genius, the album would later be deemed as the decline of the Beach Boys as a pop force. It ended up driving a wedge between Wilson, the record company, and the rest of the band. The Beach Boys never recovered the pop status they once enjoyed.

When it came time to recording Pet Sounds, Wilson had already experimented with arranging and composing on the album The Beach Boys Today. Side 1 was all hits, but side 2 saw Wilson utilizing a studio full of trained musicians to musically explore his thoughts and feelings on tunes like “The Back Of My Mind,” “Please Let Me Wonder” and ”Kiss Me Baby”. The multi-layered and complex instrumental tracks for Pet Sounds were all done on three and four-track recorders. The original mono mixes were done by recording instrumental parts on three- or four-track recorders and then recording the results to another tape machine in mono, which then left a few tracks for vocals. In other words, the final multi-track master tape had several tracks of vocals and one track (a mono mix) of instruments. In 1997, Mark Linett, with the approval of Brian Wilson, took these tapes and created a stereo mix for Pet Sound Sessions, a multi-CD box set that also included a remastered mono mix using newer equipment to improve audio quality, and a variety of behind-the-scenes audio material from the recording sessions. These multi-track analog tapes were copied to a digital audio workstation at a sampling rate of 96 kHz/24-bit. Like the mono and stereo versions, the surround mix was created using an analog console to better recreate the sound. The final mix was again at 96 kHz/24-bit for DVD Audio playback. DTS, Dolby Digital surround as well as the original mono and stereo mixes (also remastered in 96 kHz/24-bit) also are on the disc.

The mono mix level is higher than the stereo or 5.1 tracks. It has that original sound: a bit harsh in the mid-range, and an audible tape hiss in the background. When listening to the stereo mix, I compared it to the 1990 CD I have of the mono mix. The new release is quite an improvement overall, most notably in the lack of high-frequency hash heard on the 1990 CD. The sound is smoother and the high frequencies are much clearer and more resolute. The 5.1 surround re-mixes also benefit, and are notably clearer, cleaner and smoother in their tonal balance, although the vocals seem lackluster. Kudos to Linett for preserving and refining the original tapes to a much higher level, giving them more life and a more listenable sound.

My one small gripe is the vocals on the 5.1 mix. Just because you can put vocals in all of the speakers doesn’t mean that you should. The remix does this a bit over the top, in my opinion. Maybe my two-channel preferences are making themselves known, but I’m not thrilled by having the vocals surround me. I much prefer the stereo mix. It has a better balance with the vocals, instrument placement, and the rest of the mix, and is definitely worth owning for this alone. Don’t get me wrong: you do get that feeling of being in the middle of the band, which is kind of cool.

The disc comes with a wealth of goodies, making it a definite must own for any fan. The sound is much improved, bringing out a better overall presentation than on the original. Add to that a 5.1 mix, and seven bonus tracks, and it is a no-brainer. Also included is a Pets Sounds LP original 1966 promo film, Sloop John B promo video 1966/1997, Sloop John B original 1966 promo film, a photo gallery, extensive liner notes by noted Beach Boys author David Leaf, track by track notes, a discography, and more. A definite home run.

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