Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Al Jardine Challenges Mike Love to Battle of the Bands (Not Really, Well, Sort Of...)

A few months ago, Mike Love gave a series of relatively telling interviews which finally revealed some of his reasons for not carrying on with the reunion. Brian mentioned in the recent Rolling Stone piece on his new albums that he was initially upset about Mike nixing more shows and recording, but he’s now apparently over it and hot on his own solo material.
Now it’s Al Jardine’s turn, and in a recent interview to promote his upcoming gigs with Brian in July, offers no particularly new information about the disintegration of the reunion, but uses more direct, harsh language to characterize what happened. The relevant exchange from the interview follows:
The Ticker: After the 50th anniversary tour last year, Mike Love (who legally owns the name The Beach Boys) generated a significant amount of controversy when he announced he and Bruce Johnston would continue touring as The Beach Boys – without you, Brian or David. What was your reaction to that decision?
Al Jardine: We were just shocked. After all the momentum we created, that he would want to continue on alone – we didn't understand it. We had a second single (from 2012's “That's Why God Made the Radio”) and a DVD and a follow-up album ready to go. I can understand wanting to tour with your own people, but this was our legacy as a band. To be short-sighted enough to abandon that to do your own thing – it's a shame.
However, Brian and I decided that, heck – we're the heart and soul of this thing anyway, we're going to continue to perform the legacy. We have the voices, we have the creative material, and we have a wonderful backing band that Brian has been using for years. You know – we ought to do a contest between the two lineups. (laughs). It could be fun for fans. It would be illuminating.
The Ticker: Are the dual lineups creating confusion among fans? Do you think it's possible The Beach Boys will reunite at some point?
Al Jardine: Oh, it's very confusing for fans. Some of the photos from our 50th anniversary tour have been used to promote the new Beach Boys shows, which makes it even more confusing. Brian and I don't want to mislead fans, since we're not going to be at those shows. But look – The Beach Boys is just a name. The music is what's important, not the messenger. If Mike wants to come back, it'd be wonderful and we'd love to have him. But I don't think at this point it looks like it's going to happen.
As I said, there’s no new insight into why the reunion fell apart (and the interviewer’s reference to Mike owning the Beach Boys name is incorrect of course; he only licenses the use of the name), other than Mike didn’t want to do it. But Al’s tone suggests a somewhat less amicable situation between some of the members, and also doesn’t seem to bode well for future reunion tours or recording.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brian Wilson's Three New Albums?

Rolling Stone has recently reported that Brian is apparently working up a storm in the studio, and the results could yield as many as three new albums. How realistic a possibility it is that we’ll get three albums any time soon is debatable. As Rolling Stone tells it, Brian is working on a “pop” album (meaning a “regular” Brian album) which would presumably include his collaborations with Al Jardine and David Marks (among presumably others). Also in the offing is an album of largely instrumentals with guitarist Jeff Beck. This could well be the most off-beat, intriguing project Brian has worked on in ages if it comes to fruition. Finally, as the article describes it, Brian’s “suite” of songs (which may or may not be the same “suite” that Brian and Joe Thomas poached songs from for the Beach Boys’ album last year) could make up a third album.
Outside of a new Beach Boys album and tour, this is the most exciting news we could have hoped for. Brian could potentially give us a “new” album of “regular/classic/whatever you want to call it” rock/pop songs that could potentially feature Al Jardine more prominently than last year’s actual Beach Boys album (more on that a bit later), as well as a more progressive, cutting-edge project with Jeff Beck (who has, perhaps more than any other “heavyweight” guitarist from the classic rock era, managed to continue to be progressive and garner rave reviews), and many Brian Wilson Nerd-Fans’ wet dream come to life of this mystical “suite” that some are convinced is “Smile II” in terms of potential quality. I just hope it has good tunes on it. That’s enough for me. Brian doesn’t have to be “modular” in his recordings, but if he is and the “modules” are good, then awesome!
The article's description of done of the tracks is quite intriguing:
At Los Angeles' Ocean Way studios the next day, Wilson and his bandleader, Jeffrey Foskett, spend the morning cutting vocals, then Wilson guides two band members – Scott Bennett and Probyn Gregory – through vibes and French-horn parts for one of the Beck tracks. Over a lunch of takeout chicken tacos, Wilson plays back a dozen unfinished songs, including an unnamed Motown-like organ jam; the lush pop tracks "Right Time" (featuring a superb Jardine vocal) and "Guess You Had To Be There," which recounts wild nights in the 1960s at the L.A. club the Troubador; and a heavy jam with Beck called "Metropolis" that sounds like prof surf music.

The most exciting track features Beck picking a 12-string electric guitar over a haunting "ooh-na-na" vocal line from Jardine, bathed in layers of Wilson's vocal harmonies. It may be the spookiest song he's ever recorded. "Jeff showed up in the studio and we just got it going – it was a natural thing," says Wilson. "I think we're doing to be doing a lot together."
Sometimes descriptions of music can vary wildly from the end result, to some listeners anyway. So while I take these descriptions with a grain of salt, they sound promising.

Meanwhile, the time table for such releases is up in the air. Brian is going to do his hand full of dates with Al and David in July, so we won’t have any new album out by then (though an airing of bits of Brian’s new recordings seems likely). Jeff Beck is joining the “BAD” (Brian/Al/David) lineup as an opener for their October date at the Hollywood Bowl, and will apparently also appear during part of their set, so hopefully that bodes well for the possibility of an album being out by then and also more tour dates booked.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review - "Good Vibrations Tour" DVD

Let's take a brief detour from the "Made in California" discussion to look at something we have in our hands now, Eagle Rock's US DVD release of "Good Vibrations Tour."
Amazon managed to get this to my mailbox a day ahead of release date, so it was another fun surprise to take a look at this. Eagle Rock issued the DVD in the UK a number of years ago. Precisely why it took this long for a US release I do not know. Interestingly, the copyright notice on the back cover lists both Broadway Video (Lorne Michaels' production company that owns Saturday Night Live and the like) and Brother Records. So it appears the Beach Boys do have co-ownership of this TV special.
The TV special to which I refer is the infamous 1976 NBC TV special aired to tie into the "15 Big Ones" album and the "Brian's Back" hoopla. I'm still to this day a bit confused as to the official title. It has none on screen. I've seen it referred to as "It's OK", or simply "The Beach Boys", or seemingly colloquially  among some fans over the years as the "Dr. Pepper Special", presumably due to its contemporary sponsorship when it aired. In any event, it seems Eagle Rock simply made up the "Good Vibrations Tour" title, which I suppose is as good a title as any if you're just going to make it up but catch the eye of potential buyers.
Let's talk content first: The band had never and never again put together anything like this TV special. It is very of its era, tinged with some of the off-kilter mixture of humor, music, and sometimes plodding pacing of early-era "Saturday Night Live." Add in the unique nature of the Beach Boys, who haven't often seemed to have an overt, on-purpose sense of humor (yes, I've heard over the years that Brian has a great "sense of humor", but at least 90% of the time I've laughed at something Brian Wilson has done or said, I've felt like he isn't doing it on purpose to be funny), and you get this NBC TV special.
The special is centered around concert footage from the band's 1976 Anaheim Stadium show, with Brian "back" on stage, and the band in full mid-70's bling mode with Mike's flashy jackets and head dresses, beards for everybody, a stage show with full horn section, and Dennis still looking healthy for one of the last times in the band's career.
What we get interspersed with the concert footage are random interludes for each band member. Mike's in a stunt plane, Dennis judges a beauty pageant, Al gets attacked by goats after espousing the virtues of the rugged outdoors life as if he's auditioning for a role in "This is Spinal Tap", and Brian infamously gets yanked out of bed by CHP officers Aykroyd and Belushi after being cited for "failing to surf." This segment has become by far the most infamous, being partially reused in the band's "An American Band" documentary. The segment is fascinating not only for Brian's poor attempt at acting (his one "line" is completely botched; "I'm not goin', you get your hair wet, get sand in your shoes, okay, I'm not goin'" is delivered without pause as if he's trying to get through it as quickly as possible) but also because of how uncomfortable Brian clearly is out on the beach even though the whole thing is ostensibly scripted and planned.
We get some nice interludes such as an odd Wilson Brothers rendition of "I'm Bugged at My Ol' Man", and the entire group belting out "That Same Song" with choir accompaniment. All in all, strange but entertaining. Definitely worth an official release.
In terms of video and audio quality, the DVD appears to use the same master used on the previous UK release. Despite being officially licensed from the group and Broadway Video, the transfer seems to be from a slightly worn, faded print. Video and sound definitely better the VHS dubs floating around among collectors over the years, yet if you look back at raw footage from the special used in "An American Band" in 1984, the footage looked much better there. Why Eagle Rock's DVD looks a few notches below that, I cannot say. It may well be that Broadway Video simply supplied Eagle Rock with whatever old videotape transfer they had. I doubt either Broadway or Eagle Rock scanned any original film elements for this release. I have heard that in the aftermath of the "An American Band" project, all sorts of videotape and film elements became scattered and difficult to find, so I don't know if that was a factor either. Footage used from the TV special in "Endless Harmony" also appears sub-par compared to "An American Band." In any event, the video and audio quality are more than acceptable, and the best we're going to get until someone is able to scan the original negative or original film elements in HD. A Blu-ray release would be nice, and would be possible as all of the extant footage was shot on film, not videotape. It should be noted the DVD purports to have a 5.1 audio mix, but this was surely extracted from mono sound elements.

Extras are literally non-existent here, and that is not surprising. The packaging is a simple clear DVD keepcase with artwork that is actually not too offensive. I may simply be conditioned by some cheesy artwork on releases like this, so something sort of bland but basic like this seems okay. No insert or booklet inside the case. It's $9.99 on Amazon, and the overall presentation just about matches that price point.
So, I would say this is easily a must-own for any fan or collector. It's really just an anomaly as far as how it got released, so it's a pleasant surprise.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Made in California" - More Commentary....

It’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of being hypercritical about something like “Made in California”, although I think some “fans” have more justified motives and complaints than others. There is an odd sense of entitlement that is about as off-putting as can be. The criticisms that I find most hilarious and misplaced are those that completely ignore any factors other than what *they* wanted. To want 6 CDs of all-outtakes is understandable; I feel the same way. But to blindly state that they should have put out 6, or 10, or 20 discs of nothing but outtakes is so beyond what is at all realistic, that such arguments are laughable.

On the other hand, I think some measured (if ultimately impotent) criticism is fine. Capitol and the group *are* making us buy the same freaking greatest hits yet again. Putting this set out this way is probably the only way we would have gotten the rarities, but that doesn’t negate the criticism that vast numbers of fans buying this set will be getting literally their 278th copy of “Surfin’ USA” and the like. “Made in California” is a compromise in so many ways, probably more than we’ll ever fully know. This is how it had to be get the set out. But there is an element in the set of compromise undermining elements of the set to the point that no particular type of fan is well served. This set is too large, and contains too much previous unreleased, sometimes arcane, specialized material, to appeal to a fan who maybe wants something more than a single or double-disc hits set. It of course goes without saying that any hardcore fan buying this set for the unreleased material already owns well over 50% of the material on the set, and that’s not even getting into bootlegs.

You ultimately have to look at this set as taking the opportunity of the band and the label wanting to market an anniversary boxed set product to sneak on some unreleased stuff for hardcore fans. It’s a bit like when your favorite old movie or TV show gets re-made into some awful modern flashy movie, but as a cash-in, the studio releases the old version you like for the first time. I didn’t particularly like Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes”, but it motivated Fox to put out the campy, obscure 1974 “Planet of the Apes” TV series on DVD for the first time as a cash-in/tie-in, which I liked. Tom Cruise’s “War of the Worlds” was kind of awful, but it spurred Paramount to put out the even more obscure, even more cheesy 80’s “War of the Worlds” TV series out on DVD. So in our case, Capitol and the group want a career-spanning set that shows their best work. I love that work actually, but I already own it in countless permutations. But the “bonus” that is slipping out on the back of those hits is the approximately 60 previously unreleased tracks. They wouldn’t have come out on their own, so we have to buy the box of cereal we don’t want or don’t need to get the cool toy that comes in the box. Far from ideal, but it’s the best we can hope for.

I do think Capitol and the group could, on a smalller, more humble scale, successfully market “archival” releases with studio outtakes and live shows, etc. to the hardcore fans. But the business machinations involved in the Beach Boys organization, and likely their aversion and penchant for making odd, arbitrary decisions, has dictated they won’t open up the archives and give the hardcore fans what they would pay for. It appears something was in the works or attempted a number of years ago with the “Beach Boys Central” website. But it literallly never got past the stage of a placeholder page promising nothing in particular.

Next up… A more detailed look at the tracklisting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Made in Calfornia" Exists!!!!!

I had been planning for months to post a speculative look at what might appear on “Made in California”, but I took too long, and now we have a firm release date and a tracklisting.
It’s first interesting to simply finally learn the nature of the set, as we hadn’t gotten much on details in the past year and a half. We got vague allusions to “career spanning”, “deep cuts”, etc. So what did we end up with? Something that does indeed generally resemble a “2.0” version of the 1993 “Good Vibrations” boxed set. A career-spanning selection of hits and other key tracks, plus interspersed rarities, culminating in a final disc of all unreleased material.
It’s fun to speculate on but impossible to know the presumably long list of criteria they used to compile the tracklisting. We know the actual band members were involved to some degree, whether simply okaying tracks, or suggesting tracks, or vetoing tracks. The compilers seem to have made a concerted effort to not duplicate too much from the “Good Vibrations” boxed set.
I also have a suspicion that they also considered what was already out there in “boot” land in good quality. I can’t imagine any reason for not putting anything from “Adult Child” on this set (other than a band member veto) other than someone stepping back and saying “well, the whole album is already out there in pretty good quality.” That’s not to say this set doesn’t include some previous booted material.
Internet discussion is the expected mix of wild extremes (e.g. “Be thankful for anything they give us” all the way to “this set sucks, there’s nothing new on it, I’m not buying it”). A lot of fans seem to be hung up on the idea that this set was supposed to be mostly or all rarities. Since nothing at all specific was officially announced previously, this attitude is a bit hard to justify.
I certainly would prefer 6 CD’s of all new material. I don’t need another copy of their several discs of greatest hits. But I also recognize that Capitol and the group would not have signed off on a 6-CD set of nothing but unreleased material. Capitol needs the hits on there to lure in “casual” fans, likely purchasing as a holiday gift. At least some of the band members likely needed to be given a “career spanning” vibe from the set to justify its release. Tell Mike Love you want to release 6 CD’s of often Dennis-centric and Brian-centric, previously unreleased material from what Mike probably feels is some of the darker eras of the band’s career, and that’s probably a tough sell. But put the set in a bright, sunshiney box and throw “Kokomo” and “Summer in Paradise” on there, put lots of recognizable surf and car song titles, call it “career spanning”, and then it’s easier to justify some unreleased stuff that leaves most everybody represented.
More comments to come……