Fifty years on, Pet Sounds still stands as one of the definitive statements 20th century pop music has to offer. Its production, song craft and performances remain so powerful and influential they continue to resonate with generations of musicians and listeners. It is the former who have gathered here to pay their respects to an album that regularly tops “Greatest Albums of All Time” lists. That the majority of the artists collected on The Reverberation Appreciation Society Presents: A Tribute to Pet Sounds take their stylistic cues from pre- and post-Pet Sounds styles seems to have little bearing on the consideration for those included.
In fact, the majority of the artists assembled here owe more of a debt of gratitude to the earlier Beach Boys recordings – many, including Shannon and the Clams, the Black Angels, and the She’s sound as though they could have been contemporaries of the pre-LSD Beach Boys. That they would attempt to reimagine – there are no recreations here – such revered material in their own image is a fairly brazen move. Yet instead of relying on the studio expertise of Brian Wilson, the focus is placed on the songs themselves.
Often overshadowed by the lavish, slavishly constructed production and aura of myth surrounding the album’s creation, the songs of Pet Sounds are just as responsible for the album’s lasting influence. From the lo-fi fuzz and lysergic lethargy of opening track “Good Vibrations” – technically a Pet Sounds-era single – it’s clear The Reverberation Appreciation Society Presents: A Tribute to Pet Sounds will be far from a straight homage.
And while many adhere to the basic structure and feel of the originals, there’s more than enough deviation to make Tribute sound like an impressionistic, half-remembered recreation of one of the most famous albums of all time. That the collection is the work of the same folks behind the psych-heavy Levitation Festival should give an indication of the type of treatment these, in their original incarnation, pristine studio creations are granted. None of Wilson’s penchant for perfectly precise arrangements carries over, each song sounding as though it were recorded through a tin can positioned in the back of a moldering garage somewhere in 1966.
Christian Bland & The Revelators’ take on “I Know There’s an Answer” in particular suffers from questionable fidelity, making their performance sound like a recording of a recording being played at high volume in an empty cathedral during an earthquake. On “Hang On To Your Ego” – the original title for “I Know There’s An Answer,” which also appears here – the UFO Club find themselves lost in a sonic morass that threatens to swallow them whole. It’s an interesting tactic for taking on material known for its studio perfection; virtually the antithesis of Wilson’s original vision, yet still rendered with a certain reverence.
Indian Jewelry’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” however, is a poorly realized, cacophonous mess that never manages to solidify into anything more than a barely competent rendering of one of the greatest opening tracks ever. While it doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the remainder of the album, it certainly doesn’t help in establishing high expectations for the project. Which is unfortunate as there are a number of enjoyable moments and performances throughout Tribute to Pet Sounds. Neat Beats take a fairly straightforward reading of “Sloop John B” and throw it over a cliff into thrillingly full-on psych freakout territory in the track’s closing moments, while Chris Catalena takes on “God Only Knows” in impressive miniature, the song retaining the majority of its rich orchestration yet performed on a much smaller scale in terms of instrumentation.
Shannon and the Clams’ take on “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” sounds as lyrically appropriate now in their hands as it did when Wilson expressed the same sentiments 50 years prior. Taken literally, both are capable of sounding out of time and belonging to an earlier era – Wilson with his love of the Four Freshmen and Shannon and the Clams’ pre-Beatles girl group garage rock. Similarly, and in keeping with their own recordings, the She’s reading of “You Still Believe in Me” sounds like a contemporary to pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys singles. Largely sticking to the original’s arrangement, the She’s take on the song’s glorious outro vocal harmonies with aplomb, hitting the mark with each successive round.
As a whole, Tribute to Pet Sounds is a messy, occasionally compelling collection of slipshod takes on what were originally conceived as teenage symphonies to God. No outright failure, it simply falls well short of what could have potentially been a fascinating project with 21st century psych and garage rock bands taking on one of the most popular groups of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the majority of the performances fail to capture even a hint of the spark contained in the originals. It’s an interesting listen that ultimately feels flat.
A Tribute to Pet Sounds is available online and on vinyl.