THE BEACH BOYS: STARS AND STRIPES, VOL. 1 (1996)
1) Don't Worry Baby; 2) Little Deuce Coupe; 3) 409; 4) Long Tall Texan; 5) I Get Around; 6) Be True To Your School; 7) Fun, Fun, Fun; 8) Help Me Rhonda; 9) The Warmth Of The Sun; 10) Sloop John B.; 11) I Can Hear Music; 12) Caroline, No.
All I can say is that, in «desert island» mode, Stars And Stripes would be a more tolerable choice than Summer In Paradise. Which does not mean that the entirety of this album does not spell out «M-I-S-E-R-Y» at the rate of two songs per each letter of the word. Listed as a «Beach Boys» album; featuring all five Beach Boys – including Brian! – on vocal harmonies; but consisting exclusively of Nashville musicians playing and Nashville singers singing on old Beach Boy covers — the idea was rotten from the start, and the lack of intelligent execution fails to compensate for the rot in any imaginable way.
These are not even properly done «country» rearrangements: at best, it is all made to sound like «1990s country-pop», which was at least before the Taylor Swift era, but was already no more «authentic country» than John Mayer is «genuine blues». Everybody just seems to be playing for cash, with no interest whatsoever in anything else — learn the chords (and, since most of the covered songs are from the 1963-64 period, that certainly would not take too long), practice for half an hour, churn it out, and off you go. A pure instance of rigid professionalism that makes the idea of «art» almost ridiculously superfluous.
Much the same applies to the singers, almost none of which are either capable of reproducing the fun spirit of the originals or of supplying a new cool twist to the old stuff. The only exceptions are – big frickin' surprise – the two old-schoolers. Timothy B. Schmit, of Eagles/Poco/solo fame, does a good job of recreating the worried mood of 'Caroline, No' (which is, by the way, the only «serious» song on the entire album, and its being tacked onto the end, like a lame dog bonus track, clearly demonstrates that, at this point, Executive Producer Mike Love was still certain that the true Beach Boys expired thirty years ago upon disembarking from the yacht on the front sleeve of Summer Days). It adds nothing to the original, but it doesn't spoil it, which produces quite a nice psychological effect after the preceding eleven tracks.
Second, another old-schooler and everybody's favorite, Willie Nelson, unexpectedly pops out on 'The Warmth Of The Sun' — a song that normally commands a very complex vocal performance and a particularly sweet vocal tone. Of course, it could be expected that the old trickster would try and do something like that — deconstruct a vocal classic with a deliberately minimalistic performance. But, unfortunately, that is just the way it works: as an experimental deconstruction. It is odd and unusual to hear Nelson's sympathetic «non-singing» backed by angelic harmonies, but it certainly is not the right way a good Beach Boys cover can be done. (Come to think of it, I do not even know what is the right way — the Beach Boys defy personal interpretation, which is why we do not see too many respectable Beach Boy covers floating around, unlike the Beatles).
And, in any case, two decent/interesting performances out of twelve isn't exactly hot stuff — especially when, in order to get through to them, one has to suffer the humiliation of Toby Keith singing about being true to your school; of 'Help Me, Rhonda' rearranged as a fast-tempo shit-rock number; of grown-up people rather than fresh kids still wallowing in the cheap silliness of 'Long Tall Texan'; of Lorrie Morgan going through 'Don't Worry Baby' with all the passion of a young idealistic mom giving it her all at the local school benefit show, etc. etc.
Predictably, the planned Stars And Stripes Vol. 2 never came to pass (although some material was actually recorded, like a not-half bad Tammy Winette take on 'In My Room'), and the original record went out of print fairly soon — and with it, any incentive on the part of the «Beach Boys» to record any new material, particularly since, soon afterwards, the rift between Brian and Mike Love became permanent, and because Carl passed away in 1998: although Mike and Bruce still shamefully continued touring as «Beach Boys», it is one thing to please nostalgic crowds with shaky-hand renditions of 'Surfin' USA', and quite another one to record new material under the same name (not that, in between the two of them, they had any).
Thumbs down without a question (sorry, Willie), both to this album and its funny permutation that occasionally circulates around in bootleg form — one with all the lead vocal tracks wiped out and amusing liner notes that explain that, since this is probably the last ever Beach Boys album to bear that name on it, one must have the right to hear it as a Beach Boys album, focusing on authentic Beach Boy harmonies, rather than a trashy country star tribute record with the band guesting on its own album. Now that, in 2012, a reunion is finally expected, the excuse may no longer be an excuse, and then the last ever reason for even remembering that someone ever had such a fit of bad taste will dissipate forever.