The Beach Boys 50th anniversary year was never likely to be an event-free lap of honour. Upon reforming, they managed to produce an intermittently great album of new material and thrilled audiences worldwide with marathon performances. Unsurprisingly, the good vibrations didn’t last and were followed by a public fallingout that once again appears to leave the band divided. Nonetheless, the careerspanning Made In California rounds off the celebrations in fine style.
Interestingly, it reflects a change in the way the band have been perceived in recent years, with as much space devoted to their less successful, yet creatively fertile later years as their long-accepted golden era of surfin’, hot-rods and teenage crushes. This post-Pet Sounds period intrigues fans most: the creative tensions within the band, the sometimes inspired, often flat-out bizarre contributions of their unwell leader, Brian Wilson and the artistic flowering of the younger Wilson brothers, Dennis and Carl, gave rise to some of the group’s best music.
This time around, hardcore fans’ biggest concern will be the extent to which those Capitol vaults have been raided. While there are some mysterious omissions (Awake, Stevie, a lot of Brian’s much-bootlegged Adult Child collection, Dennis’ Carry Me Home and I’m Going Your Way), there’s just about enough “new” material here to placate the hardcore.
Discs One to Three rattle brilliantly through the albums up to 1971 with no real surprises, save Dennis Wilson’s wonderful 1970 single Sound Of Free, its B-side Fallin’ In Love, and an odd alternative version of Meant For You, featuring additional lyrics that were probably best left on the shelf (“Have you ever seen a pony run alongside of his mother/And have you ever seen a puppy-dog laying his head on his brother?”).
The fourth disc features the first major rescue from the vaults. (Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again was written by Dennis Wilson for Surf’s Up but, mystifyingly, left off at the last minute. There’s no wonder he lost patience with the group. It’s a magnificent, tender epic, most reminiscent of Pacific Ocean Blue’s Thoughts Of You. “Who ever said a man can’t cry?/I know I can cry,” Dennis sings, and you’ll find you too have tears in your eyes.
While nobody needs a version of Rock And Roll Music with an extra verse, or an alternate mix of Brian’s Back, Disc Four also features the interesting, late-period harmony-overload curio California Feelin’. The rarity-fest continues on Disc Five, the highlights of which are a pair of songs the band recorded with Don Was in the 90s, Soul Seachin’ and You’re Still A Mystery, for an aborted album. Grown-up, musically complex and without a surfboard in sight, the songs offer a tantalising glimpse of what may have been.
Of a selection of previously unreleased live tracks spanning the band’s career, a superb Wild Honey, with Blondie Chapman sounding possessed by the holy spirit and backed by Big Brother & The Holding Company, and a souped-up It’s About Time are of particular note. They underline what kind of band the mid-70s Beach Boys could have been, had Dennis and Carl been allowed to take the helm. Instead, they took a plunge into the novelty band circuit.
The final disc comprises unreleased tracks, a cappella and instrumental versions of much-loved songs, and assorted session work. Absolute wonders include Brian’s backing track to Glenn Campbell’s I Guess I’m Done, and Dennis’ laidback and funky Barnyard Blues, which sounds more like Little Feat than The Beach Boys. Few fans would have voted for an instrumental version of Transcendental Meditation, but it’s here and it’s a revelation. The set ends with a trio of songs from a 1964 BBC session; the sound quality may be poor but those voices shine through, utterly peerless nearly 50 years on.