Various Caroline Now!: The Songs of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys

The near-unprecedented number of heated responses to Exclaim! Associate Editor Michael Barclay's recent published slight of Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' canonised 1966 masterwork, [Feeding Back, pg. 6] make up another handful of testimonials to Brian Wilson's increasingly feted status. Possibly only Lennon and McCartney remain a more highly regarded songwriting force - astonishing, considering the wide gulf between the groups' sales and cultural impact. Tribute albums are usually worthy but rarely loveable. The Beach Boys' vocally and musically complex material doesn't suffer indie fools gladly, and so Caroline Now! ought to be particularly rough territory. Yet it emerges as one of the greatest triumphs of the tribute album concept, not only because most of its participants possess an ingenuity above the three-chord hordes, but also for the obvious passion they have for these songs (Beach Boys lovers are among the most obsessed of the obsessive). Caroline Now! emphasises lesser-known Brian songs, as well as those of his underrated bandmates. Best are former Vaseline Eugene Kelly's sumptuous, wide-screen take on drummer Dennis Wilson's "Lady," the wonderful Pearlfishers' "Go Away Boy" (originally recorded by Brian-masterminded girl group, the Honeys); and, especially, '60s vocal group the Free Design's shockingly fresh reunion recording of Bruce Johnston's "Endless Harmony" (this being their first recording in over 30 years, and time for them appears to have stood still). In addition to being further proof of the increasing health of the Boys' influence, Caroline Now! serves as an entry point to their neglected and frequently brilliant post-Pet Sounds catalogue. This is music that neither time nor fashion is going to diminish. (Caroline)