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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Beach Boys: Stars And Stripes Vol. 1


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.

8 comments:

  1. Ouch. The reason why I was anticipating "Salute Nascar" was because I had blocked this one completely.

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  2. Even I haven't listened to this one all the way through. The songs were all good to begin with so I suppose it could at least be a tolerable listen.
    The biggest problem with this album is that the band recorded some honest to goodness really good original tracks during this era, and yet they sent them all into the bootleg vault.

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  3. Carl's last recordings seem to have been done as a trio project with Robert Lamm of Chicago and Gerry Beckell of America. I've seen the album on Amazon, but can't recall the title or the name of the group. Anyone out there have any further info as to quality?

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  4. @Anon: Like a Brother, credited to Beckley–Lamm–Wilson, released after Carl's death in 2000. Wilson sang lead on five tracks; Beckley took three and Lamm handled two.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Like_a_Brother

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  5. Never heard this or Summer In Paradise. Even my patience and understanding has boundaries. Saw this for a dollar at a Wal-Mart somewhere. Refused it. I prefer to think that the last Beach Boys album is "The Beach Boys" and while that album is no great shakes, at least it appears like the band TRIED to make good music (sometimes making good melodies and harmonies). These last two albums seem pure money grubbing. The outtake collections may also be money grubbing Mike Love nonsense but at least they have GOOD music.

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  6. Thanks for getting your hands dirty with these last couple albums, George. I hope you'll eventually review the reunion album, as well as some of the great solo work Brian's put out (read: That Lucky Old Sun) since the old site wound down.

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  7. Yeah, I couldn't get the whole way through this one, either. For all its hideousness, "SiP" was at least a Beach Boy's vision of what a Beach Boys album should sound like. This is just an album where the BB's sing backup vocals. I can hardly believe Brian co-produced this thing, although I suspect this was more Joe Thomas' idea and dragged BW along for the ride.

    In any case, the concept was absolutely wrong from the start. The Beach Boys don't belong in the cornfield anymore than the lead vocalists belong on surfboards. Although the liner notes make ridiculous stretches trying to convince us that the band had authentic connections to country ("Brother Records was distributed out of Nashville!"), it's all bogus.

    The only time the BB's have ever been able to make this kind of thing work is when they totally "Beach Boys-ize" the sound ("Cotton Fields", "Back Home", "California Saga") so that the country elements are mostly submerged. But that wouldn't work for these singers, who all sound uncomfortable. The backing vocals don't mesh well with either the leads or the instrumental tracks.

    It's just a total disaster, period. It stands in a class by itself, since I don't consider it to be a Beach Boys album, but an anthology of country songs with the Beach Boys' name on it. As such, it's probably the worst thing with their names on it.

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  8. Great article! You really nailed what is inherently wrong with this album (and other cash-grab projects, Beach Boys or not). I'll be going back and having a read of all your other Beach Boys posts. Thanks!

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