Pet Sounds (DVD Audio)
THE BEACH BOYS
I'm getting paid for this — which probably isn't fair. Sitting in the dead middle of my living room on a Tuesday morning, I'm listening to Pet Sounds, which has been converted to DVD audio and lovingly remixed and remastered for 5.1 surround sound. "Listening" is too passive a word, really. The music engulfs me. It emanates from all around me and collects in the center of my dome. I'm having a transcendent experience. If all this sounds a tad too trippy, let me assure you that I'm sober as a Sunday school teacher.
Let's examine the experience further, but first, a few words about Pet Sounds the phenomenon. Brian Wilson, the troubled genius at the epicenter of the Beach Boys, quit touring in the mid '60s, and while his mates went to play shows in Japan he set about creating a masterpiece. He succeeded in every conceivable way. Setting aside the "fun, fun, fun" image of the Beach Boys, a gold-mine venture to that point, Wilson sought to make a record that was confessional, sophisticated and groundbreaking. He wrote the tunes (with help on the lyrics from new friend Tony Asher), crafted stunning arrangements and then conducted a fabled studio band to record them. When the other Beach Boys returned, Brian schooled them through their mind-bending vocal parts.
Released in 1966, Pet Sounds was not a major commercial success, but it reverberated through the musician community. Paul McCartney has long said it spurred him to make Sgt. Pepper's, and while the years have given that Beatles opus the patina of period quaintness, Pet Sounds remains universally regarded as timeless.
Now that we've established the album's unimpeachable status, let us return to the experience. You do not need new-fangled hardware to play this version of Pet Sounds. A standard DVD player will do. To get the full effect, though, you should have a five-speaker set-up and, preferably, a sub-woofer. I didn't have to tweak the volume levels on my amp — just pressed play and there came the watery guitar intro to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" swirling around my noggin.
Surround sound cracks open new sonic vistas. The drums and bass are more resonant. Details reveal themselves, peeking out of the mix, attracting my attention. Previously subliminal stuff darts into my consciousness. A raspy bass clarinet peers out in "You Still Believe in Me." Brian Wilson's organ drones guide "That's Not Me" (the only song featuring the Beach Boys playing instruments). Little eddies of quivering strings enhance the tenderness of "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)."
An English horn echoes Brian's lead vocal on "I'm Waiting for the Day." Tinkles of glockenspiel brighten up "Sloop John B." A staccato bass line lends urgency to "God Only Knows." A low-register harmonica gives "I Know There's an Answer" a kick. Twin baritone saxes punch up "Here Today." The background vocals on "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" produce a truly psychedelic melange, and the wacky warble of the theremin adds further intoxication. The ache in Brian's "Caroline No" vocal is all the more palpable via surround sound. Oh, and the two instrumentals — "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and the title song — establish themselves as mood enhancers rather than filler.
Being literally surrounded by Pet Sounds forces me to pay absolute attention, and thus I'm more in tune with Brian Wilson's budding misanthropy. He comes off as anxious, fearful, dependent and vulnerable. Despite the album's gorgeous melodies and many lively trappings, it rings with a deep, compelling sadness.
This DVD is rounded out by bonus material that was taken from the Pet Sounds box set, including session highlights (with Brian routinely talking to the musicians from the studio control room), a cappella mixes, alternate mixes and other rarities. Flip the disc over and watch a corny, low-budget promo film for the album. Then do the whole thing all over again. (Do you really need a planet rating on this?)—ERIC SNIDER
Matt Suggs is probably getting tired of the endless Ray Davies comparisons. Understandably so, especially considering how unique and confessional Amigo Row proves to be. On his second solo release, Suggs' songwriting has grown more sophisticated since 2000's Golden Days Before They End, but retains its notably plaintive style. With minimal guitar effects, half-whispered vocals and dry production, most of Amigo Row emulates the early '70s-style country pop of Neil Young, although its bolder moments resemble Big Star of the same era. Infrequent power-pop aspirations aside, though, this engagingly sentimental album could have just as easily been recorded on a four-track in Suggs' basement, a further compliment to his subdued but dynamic approach. Piano-laden hooks separate Amigo Row from the glut of Americana artists currently mining Townes Van Zandt's back catalog, but it occasionally adopts a piano-bar swagger that is slightly maniacal (if not downright uncomfortable). Suggs' world resembles that of a David Lynch movie — haunting, atmospheric but strangely ordinary. That said, this disc has enough gems of insight to compensate for any offbeat experimentation. Accessible tracks like "Clementine" and "Calm Down" are radio-ready standouts, in part due to Suggs' backing band, the inexplicably named Thee Higher Burning Fire. Nothing is more annoying than a self-obsessed singer/songwriter who tries to go it alone by playing every instrument (Stevie Wonder being an exception), so the guy deserves some credit for giving the other musicians some space. Roots- oriented but progressive, Amigo Row showcases a unique talent building a consistent and praiseworthy body of work. —Mark Sanders(Matt Suggs plays the Orpheum on Thursday, Sept. 18.)
What's in the Bag?
Razor & Tie
He's a One Hit Wonder who didn't deserve his fate. Save for the irrepressible jangle-pop of 1982's "Someday, Someway," Marshall Crenshaw has not tasted chart success. It's probably a little late for stardom now, but fans of clean, no-gimmicks pop-rock would do well to give this guy (another?) shot. What's in the Bag? is a good place to start. Crenshaw still has that Lennon-esque yearn in his voice — he played the late Beatle in the road show of Beatlemania — and an elegant sense of melody. Acting as his own producer, Crenshaw has outfitted these ear-friendly adult songs with subtle, guitar-oriented arrangements decorated with vibraphone, pedal steel, cello, Farfisa organ and other nice sonic touches. He augments his new originals with two covers that he makes his own: a spirited, power-pop take on Prince's "Take Me With You" and a sensuous run at P-Funk's "I'd Rather Be With You." Except for a couple of pointless instrumentals that feature Crenshaw's merely adequate guitar work, Bag is a particularly worthy effort. www.razorandtie.com 1/2—ERIC SNIDER