Last week I said I wouldn’t be reviewing any compilations or greatest hits releases as part of the RDIO column, but after listening to U2’s incredible reissue celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Achtung Baby as well as the finally released Smile Sessions Box Set by The Beach Boys I’ve changed my mind. If you’re seeking incredible and timeless music, these are good places to start.
Add It To The Collection…In 1966, with his band on the road in support of Pet Souds and celebrating the subsequent release of their third number one single, “Good Vibrations”, Brian Wilson stepped into the studio to create a musical masterpiece that he felt would surpass The Beatles’ recently released Revolver album. Much has been written and debated in the following 45 years about The Beach Boys abandoned Smile album and its subsequent iterations. Over the years we’ve heard snippets of Wilson’s original vision and the mythology around the original recording sessions (80 sessions over 9 months) are legendary. As a major Wilson and Beach Boys fan, I felt that we finally had the illusive Smile experience in 2004 when Wilson and his incredible touring band recreated the album with input from original lyrical collaborator Van Dyke Parks, who helped fill in some of the gaps. That album was regarded as an amazing accomplishment for Wilson, who finally faced the demons surrounding the Smile project. I was actually under the impression that Wilson had at some point destroyed the original Smile tapes and that the 2004 album would be the final and definitive account of the project.
As The Beach Boys prepare to celebrate their 50th anniversary as a band we are now treated to The Smile Sessions box set, which features the closest thing to Wilson’s original vision for the Smile album with The Beach Boys themselves on vocals. While the 2004 Smile is by far a better sounding record and a much more cohesive offering, there’s something about hearing Brian, Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al and Bruce perfectly harmonizing together on these iconic tracks. What was clearly leading edge music for 1966, with bizarre orchestration and arrangements, is far more digestible in 2011. Is the release of The Smile Sessions a clever way to drum up interest in a potential 50th anniversary reunion and tour for the remaining Beach Boys? Perhaps; but there is no denying the magic on these original recordings and the incredible vision of Brian Wilson as one of the great composers and producers in the history of recorded pop music. Must-have track: “Surf’s Up”.
Worth Another Listen…Let me start by saying I am not the biggest U2 fan. I appreciate their body of work and I have purchased most of their albums over the years and seen the band live twice, but I would call myself a casual U2 fan at best. Over the years friends and music fans have claimed that U2’s music was often ahead of the curve and as the years passed doubters would look back on the recorded works of Ireland’s leading export with new appreciation and admiration. Last week the band undertook their most ambitious reissue project to date with the release of the Achtung Baby 20th Anniversary Edition. Like most of my U2 experience, I remember being a casual fan of the album, liking some of the singles and having a definitive aversion to some of the other tracks on the record. Fast Forward 20 years and I have to say, the music on Achtung Baby sounds as fresh and progressive as anything on modern rock radio today. Lyrically, musically and most importantly, sonically, Achtung Baby is one of those rare timeless recordings. From the distorted echo of The Edge’s guitar licks on “Zoo Station” and “The Fly” to the pure pop sensibilities of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” the album is a classic. Must-have track: “Even Better Than The Real Thing” – arguably the prototype for every Coldplay song ever written.