Nowadays, magazines have to do a lot to try and get our business, with free internet sites offering much the same product. Cover CDs are still a huge part of their potential appeal, and Mojo have pulled out all the stops with their latest issue, featuring a tribute album to Pet Sounds, in honour of the Beach Boys 50th anniversary reunion. It’s been out for a while now, but the thought of cover versions of my favourite album of all time made me slightly hesitant to listen to it, but here’s a track-by-track review. As you’d expect, it’s a mixed bag, but there’s some genuinely good versions of the original classics, so certainly worth a listen…
1 – Wouldn’t It Be Nice – Saint Etienne
It’s no surprise to find Saint Etienne here, what with a new album coming out soon and their history of naming things after Beach Boys records, and it’s also no surprise that this is a lovely start to Pet Sounds Revisited. At first it’s pretty much a capella, which means that you lose the wondrous intro, but Sarah Cracknell’s gorgeous vocals make up for it, and the indie-pop stylings soon follow on, occasionally taking more from Smile than Pet Sounds, but working out as a fantastic homage to Brian Wilson and his teenage symphonies to God.
2 – You Still Believe In Me – The Magnetic North
One phrase I’m going to avoid using (apart from here) is ‘not as good as the original’, because that’s not the point of this album, its about paying tribute through either re-recording songs close to how they were originally done, or through reinventing them. The Magnetic North fall somewhere in between those two (but closer to ‘just doing a normal cover version), with a lovely take on You Still Believe In Me, with female vocals again working really well, this time from Hannah Peel.
3 – That’s Not Me – The Sand Band
Pet Sounds was of course Wilson’s attempt to outdo a bunch of Scousers, so it’s fitting that there’s another bunch here doing one of his songs. And it’s a really good dreamy version as well, with lots of slide guitar effects in the background. Definitely one of the most interesting and successful covers on here and the kind that makes you want to hear more from the band, which is obviously one of the main objectives of something like that.
A tough one to cover, this is one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, with one of Brian’s most touchingly lovely vocal performances, so it’s brave of Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess to do it pretty much straight-on, relying on his singing to not sound awful in comparison. And, to be fair, he does a pretty good job, even if he can’t quite match the master.
5 – I’m Waiting For The Day – Jeffrey Lewis
Folkster Jeffrey Lewis has done a really interesting version here, with a slightly sloppy sing-song of the original track performed over the top of very serious-sounding narration about the background to the making of the album. It sounds a bit jarring at first, but the narration kind of reminds me of the news bulletin from 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night by Simon & Garfunkel, so I liked it.
6 – Let’s Go Away For Awhile – Neil Cowley Trio
This is probably the most ‘out there’ of all the versions on here, largely because, as you’d expect from a jazz trio, Cowley & Co might start off with the first of two instrumentals on Pet Sounds, but soon stray. Happily, they stray into territory that remains as melodic and wonderful as the original track, so it works well and is all the more enjoyable for taking it in a different direction.
7 – Sloop John B – Tom McRae
For some reason I’ve never quite taken to Tom McRae, and this doesn’t really change anything for me. It’s a folky version of a Beach Boys cover of an old folky song, so while it’s perfectly fine, it’s nothing particularly exciting. But then again, Sloop John B never really excited me much in the first place.
8 – God Only Knows – The Flaming Lips
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the whole CD/magazine, getting The Flaming Lips on-board was definitely a coup for Mojo, as was getting them to do a version of the most famous song from the album. As you’d expect, it’s a very woozy and spacey take on God Only Knows, a world away from the symphonic majesty of Wilson’s production, but you could maybe say it’s a bit too ‘safe’, in that it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound. But it’s still very good.
9 – I Know There’s An Answer – Les Liminanas
French act Les Liminanas offer a pretty decent version of I Know There’s An Answer, focusing on the psychedelic edge of the track, which makes you wonder why they stuck to the Mike Love-censored lyrics rather than doing Hang On To Your Ego. But it’s good fun, and again great to hear good female vocals on a Pet Sounds song.
10 – Here Today – Jodie Marie
I’d never heard of Jodie Marie before, because she’s an up-and-coming Welsh singer and she delivers a decent-enough cover of Here Today, which has never been one of my favourite Beach Boys songs. My problem with this version is that her vocals come across as slightly affected in that awful ‘faux American’ voice that a lot of female singers put on in the 80s, which makes it seem quite dated.
11 – I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times – Gaz Coombes
The second solo Britpopper on the album, Gaz Coombes was always going to be a likely suspect for an album like this and he delivers a fine version of the song that’s most personal to me on the original. Like Burgess, he doesn’t stray too far from what Wilson did, and pulls it off very well.
12 – Pet Sounds – Human Don’t Be Angry
Malcolm Middleton’s latest project, Human Don’t Be Angry have a go at breathing new life into Brian’s attempt to do a James Bond theme, but it’s more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ because it tries to do a bit too much without doing enough to actually resemble what it’s meant to be covering. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of potential in Pet Sounds for an interesting twist, but this doesn’t really do it.
13 – Caroline, No – Here We Go Magic
And finally (excluding bonus tracks, but I’m only reviewing the ‘proper’ stuff), New York indie band Here We Go Magic finish things off with a slightly bossa nova-influenced cover of Caroline, No. It’s an interesting variation and a good example of how you can do a cover that sticks true to the heart of the original while offering enough variation to make it worthwhile, and a nice end to a surprisingly enjoyable album.