The Pet Sounds Sessions
Capitol Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/28/2005
My love for Pet Sounds has been established, and it has taken its rightful place in the list of Jeff's favorite albums. Now, when presented an album that is so incredibly well produced, the natural reaction is, "How did he/she do this?" This question certainly arose after I gave Pet Sounds a spin or two. Luckily, Capitol Records, through The Pet Sounds Sessions, has provided us with an answer.
The Pet Sounds Sessions consists of four discs, with a treasure trove of material to be found on each. Also included are some stellar liner notes, as well as a small book, titled The Making of Pet Sounds. It is apparent from the first time you lift the lid of the box off that great care and thought went into the creation of this set.
Disc 1 is broken up roughly in half. The first 13 tracks are the stereo mixes of the actual Pet Sounds tracks. This was the first time anyone had heard this album in stereo, and it certainly is an experience all in itself. If the "wall of sound" approach found on the mono mix of Pet Sounds bothered you at all, this disc is for you. The stereo mix allows for a more clear listening of the album, the instrumentation is easier to pick out. However, for the purist, Pet Sounds was never supposed to be heard in stereo, so your opinion may depend on how much you care about the original album.
The rest of Disc 1 and Disc 2 is the "meat" of the set. Here one can find session highlights, backing tracks san vocals and unreleased tracks, all in wonderful stereo. This was a barrel of fun to listen to; the session highlights provide context for the backing tracks that follow. To listen to Wilson and Co. run through early versions of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," or "I Know There's An Answer," is exciting as well as revealing. In fact, my only gripe is that I wanted to hear more of the session highlights. The biggest hits get about 7-8 minutes, while some tracks such as "Sloop John B" get roughly a minute. An explanation is provided in the liner notes, and it makes sense, but I get the feeling this box set could have been even bigger and better. However, that is a small matter.
Disc 3 is really what sold me on buying this set. The first 11 songs are the final vocal tracks heard on Pet Sounds. To be able to hear The Beach Boys sing Pet Sounds essentially in an a capella format is just breathtaking. One can pick out little bits that you might not hear on the actual tracks themselves. My favorite "discovery" is at the end of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," when Brian and Carl (I think) drop the pitch of their harmonies ever so slightly. It makes for a gorgeous-sounding vocal. I've listened to these tracks over and over again, and each time I get chills down my spine. The rest of Disc 3 proceeds to present Pet Sounds in an alternate manner. For example, instead of Brian singing "Sloop John B," we hear Carl. "God Only Knows" has an added a capella tag, featuring all the Beach Boys as well as what is gathered to be everyone who was in the studio at that time. Personally I think that should have made the final cut, but I can live. Other songs have different vocalists as well, lyrics reversed, and added solos. This particular material is interesting to a degree, but the other two discs are more so.
Disc 4 is the original Pet Sounds, in its mono mix. It's a wonderful bookend to the overall set; you've heard how the album was made, and to close everything out there it is presented again in final, unfettered form. So now, having spent the weekend listening to this collection over and over again, is it worth it for everyone to buy? The answer is no -- even the casual Beach Boys fan would most likely find this set dull. However, if you love Pet Sounds, or have an appreciation and desire to see how a record of Pet Sounds' caliber was recorded, by all means order this set now.