Various Artists: Caroline Now! The Music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys


By Kevin Mathews

The Brian Wilson extravaganza continues to gain new attractions and shows no sign of abating. The nineties have indeed been kind to Brian after decades of clinical depression, creative difficulties and that whole shameful episode with Eugene Landy. Wilson’s artistic peak, Pet Sounds, has been almost universally recognised as THE pop album of all time and the cutting edge of modern-day pop music reflect Wilson’s influence and inspiration. The UK has always been very receptive of the beauty and majesty of Brian and the Beach Boys’ sublime work—it is notable that in the mid-sixties UK fans voted them “Top Vocal Group” even above their beloved Beatles.

Which explains the basis of this loving tribute album to the lesser-known material of Brian and the Beach Boys recorded by mainly UK artists and released by German label, Marina. Appropriate perhaps that the album’s truly incandescent moment comes from Marina label band, the Pearlfishers. Covering “Go Away Boy” (a track that Brian wrote and produced for his ex-wife’s group, the Honeys) without changing the sex of the song’s subject, the Pearlfishers provide a twist to the content whilst accentuating the loveliness of the tune. Sugar-coated subversion.

Also worthy of note: Malcolm Ross’s reconfiguration of “Heroes and Villains” as ethnic folk music, Alex Chilton’s patented jaded delivery of “I Wanna Pick You Up”, Eugene (Eugenius) Kelly’s rough and ready translation of Dennis Wilson’s “Lady”, the Radio Sweethearts’ jolly good square dancin’ “Honking Down the Highway” and the Aluminium Group’s low key angular take on “Caroline, No!”.

Not to be dismissed are the slightly more faithful renditions of obscure Beach Boys nuggets. Sean O’Hagan is well known for his Beach Boys inflections and his High Llamas weigh in with a rather predictable yet buzzy “Anna Lee the Healer”, Todd Flectcher’s June and the Exit Wounds is a relative newcomer to the pop game, his straightforward treatment of “All I Wanna Do” emphasises the sheer quality of the original and Eric Matthews’ emotional evocation of early Beach Boy melancholia in “The Lonely Sea” is haunting as it is accurate.

Tribute albums that comply with the letter of the songs are a dime a dozen nowadays. It is rare to come across a tribute album that pays homage also to the spirit of the subject artist—Caroline Now! is one such tribute album. Fans of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and more importantly, serious scholars of the pop vernacular cannot afford to miss this essential compilation.

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