The Beach Boys' self-image has always been out of step with popular critical opinion. The Wilson clan (along with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine) bought into their mythology as "America's Band" — a family-friendly nostalgia trip — ever since "Kokomo" resuscitated their career in the mid-'80s. But while their music has really never left the public consciousness, their acceptance into the '60s rock canon has always hinged on the critical view of the group as the brainchild of troubled music genius Brian Wilson.
Made in California (the umpteenth collection of the Hawthorne, CA act's work) upholds this view. Celebrating their prolonged 50th anniversary, the collection spans their entire career. The Beach Boys' catalogue is ripe for anthologizing — with few notable exceptions, they were never really an album band. However, in giving roughly equal weight to each phase of their storied and troubled career, Made in California inevitably short-changes their '60s peak while packing in too many non-essential cuts from the '70s and beyond.
"Girl Don't Tell Me" (the B-side to "Barbara Ann" and a song that's grown in esteem in recent years) is noticeably absent, while a handful of tracks from last year's That's Why God Made the Radio are included, ostensibly to justify this collection, since it's the only thing the group have recorded since their previous 30th anniversary boxset.
Thankfully, the powers that be also had the forethought to omit the group's ill-advised mid-'80s collaboration with the Fat Boys. Four-and-half discs are dedicated to the band's career proper, with live tracks taking up the back half of disc five. Like the Beatles' Anthology series, radio spots and rough takes are placed chronologically throughout the collection, but a separate disc of more of these rarities is also included. It's unclear why they couldn't settle on how to present these selections.
Many of the unearthed tracks come from the Boys's late '70s slide to schmaltz, although the inclusion of Dennis Wilson's previously unreleased "(Wouldn't It be Nice to) Live Again," originally slated for Surf's Up, is a major highlight. The mixes — some new, others previously unreleased — fluctuate between stereo and mono, ultimately satisfying neither side of the audiophile debate. The additional booklet includes an oral history of the legends, one where the slightest hint of controversy is glossed over. Of course, if you're buying a six-disc Beach Boys collection, chances are you're pretty familiar with their story.
This ultimately begs the question: who is this collection for? Die-hard fans will have most of these already, while there's simply too much to digest, and too much filler, for new fans. Fifty years is a good reason to celebrate any artist, but by toeing the party line — one that many critics and fans have completely rejected — Made in California paints a false picture of one of rock's most enduring and puzzling acts. (Capitol)