Caroline Now! Reviews

Caroline Now!

Marina Records

Uncut Album of the Month

"Belle and Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, St Etienne, Alex Chilton, The Pastels, The High Llamas and more celebrate the supreme compositional skills of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

For a band whose commercial success spanned a few short years (album-wise, from 1962's Surfin Safari to 1966's Pet sounds), the Beach Boys seem to exert a disproportionate influence on today's bands. There is a distinct musical heritage that reaches from the West Coast of California right around the world, inspiring countless electro-acoustic musicians. Can this tribute album help explain why so many Y2K acts find the music of The Beach Boys, and in particular Brian Wilson, so engaging - especially as the band have spent so much of the last 30 years trying to recapture their artistic glory days and/or commercial appeal?

Started in East Kilbride Arts Centre in 1998 with sessions from Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Alex Chilton (The Box Tops, Big Star), the Caroline Now! project has taken nearly three years to complete while its 24 tracks cover material written over four decades. By adapting mainly lesser-known BBs songs, the groups on Caroline Now! emphasise the rarely-acknowledged point: that there are several Beach Boys - the surfing 'n' hot rod all-American kids, the tortured romantics, the eco-conscious counter-cultureniks, the studio explorers, the masters of acid whimsy, the pre-rock'n'roll-style showmen, and so on and so forth. Beach Boys tunes are nothing if not pliable - if you didn't know who the authors were, some of this stuff would convince lovers of leftfield electronica. Not all the BBs buffs here tear up the plans, although there are a few notable exceptions. Camping's version of "Busy Doin' Nothin'", Brian's daft but delightful aural route map to his Bel-Air home from 1968's Friends, stresses the underlying beat, resulting in an unexpected blend of drum 'n' bass and bossa nova that retains the humour of the original.

Renowned Wilson-lovers The High Llamas affect a similar recreation of "Anna Lee, The Healer" (also from Friends, one of the numerous maligned BBs LPs), revelling in its unusual tempo changes and creating a seductive blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. And St Etienne perform drastic surgery on Brian's paean to Stevie Nicks - "Stevie" - the original of which has only been available (like so much of his output from the Eighties and Nineties) on bootlegs. This faithful version suddenly takes an electronic detour into "My Diane", Brian's tortuous song of unrequited love to his then sister-in-law, from 1978's M.I.U.

Other rarities include Eric Matthews' "Lonely Sea" and The Pearlfishers' "Go Away Boy" (true BBs obsessives are notoriously obscurer than thou). Even the instrumental title track from Pet Sounds is bravely overhauled by German film composer Peter Thomas (who founded his orchestra in 1966), resulting in a jazzier, saxophone-led piece, June And The Exit Wounds' take on a curio by Brian and his creepy cousin Mike Love, the gorgeous "All I Wanna Do" (from 1970's Sunflower, the band's own favourite of their post-Pet Sounds releases), shows Todd Fletcher's voice to be perfectly suited to the drenching summer melancholia, revelling in the spectral chord changes but replacing the densely layered, synth-gasmic, echo-laden sound with the crisper production values of Pet Sounds. As Caroline Now! is quick to point out, Brian wasn't the only decent songwriter in The Beach Boys. Indeed, after the ruinous Smile project, Wilson brothers Dennis and Carl, Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnstone were forced to come up with the goods, as the eldest Wilson succumbed to mania. Opening track "Lady" (aka "Fallin' In Love"), performed here by Eugene Kelly (The Pastels, Eugenius), was written by Dennis and "Rumbo" (actually his frequent collaborator Daryl Dragon, later one half of The Captain and Tennille). "Big Sur" - a Mike Love composition from 1973's Holland, along with 1971's Surf's Up the album most adored by contemporary musicians keen to prove they really "get" The Beach Boys - is reworked acoustically by The Secret Goldfish, while on "Only With You" from the same album Norman Blake is haunted by Dennis Wilson's soulful beach bum. Few on Caroline Now! dare to mimic The Beach Boys Four Freshmen-inspired harmonies (a wise move, as they had years to perfect their technique), the noticeable exception being Sixties pop group The Free Design, who reformed to make their first recording in over 30 years, a fine, almost a capella version of Johnstone's underrated "Endless Harmony" (from 1980's Keepin' The Summer Alive). Other stand-outs include Chilton's "I Wanna Pick You Up", the bonkers ode to dadhood from The Beach Boys Love You (in effect, the second-ever Brian solo album - the first being Pet Sounds), a gossamer-light "Wind Chimes" by Katrina Mitchell of The Pastels, Stevie (Belle and Sebastian) Jackson's acoustic rendition of "Good Time" (previously released by Marilyn Wilson and sister Diane Rovell's girl group Spring on their excellent, eponymous Brian-produced album in 1973), The Aluminum Group's syncopated adaptation of the hymnal "Caroline, No", and closing track "Almost Summer", performed by Kim Fowley, the supremely sleazy Hollywood mover and shaker and one-time rival to the Wilson boys' infamous father/producer, Murray.

The packaging's great. The lavish 28-page booklet is full of rare, unpublished photos of Brian and the Boys; there are factual surprises, even for wilsonphiles (Pet Sounds was originally titled Run, James, Run) with an eye to an 007 commission); best of all, there's an exclusive interview with His Royal Madness himself.

Surfpop, speed-hymns, bubblegum, lysergic R&B, musical japes, dance invocations, neo-classical interludes, pained autobiography, spiritual healing, solipsistic despair - you name it, you can find it on a BB record. This bunch of drug casualties, friends of cult murderers and all-round fucked-up human beings have bequeathed the most stylistically broad body of work in all of rock 'n' roll. Truly an index of possibilities. All human life is there. No wonder they remain such a source of fascination, almost half a century after they formed."
(Paul Johnson, Uncut, 8/00)

NME Compilation of the Month

"The Beach Boys - everybody's pet sounds. Everybody, that is, cruelly stricken with a debilitating strain of doe-eyed, über-romanticism.

And here, 24 such patients go to work on one of pop's utmost legacies, getting in touch with their real Brian Wilson selves. And, what's more, carefully avoiding the hits.

As you'd expect, then, bittersweetened war-torn wimps pepper 'Caroline Now!' like falling feathers in a pillow fight. Where the laudable likes of Saint Etienne, the inimitable Kim Fowley and Belle & Sebastian's Stevie Jackson hit all emotional targets but leave no permanent scars.
There are so many treasures of feydom to discover here: BMX Bandits honcho Duglas T Stewart lends 'Lines' (from 1978's ditched 'Adult Child' album) a cocksure Bacharach grace; erstwhile Sub Pop soloist Eric Matthews tingles the senses with vocal majesty on 'Lonely Sea' - the earliest Wilson composition included; ex-Vaselines' Eugene Kelly embellishes 'Lady' with a Spectoresque grandeur; The High Llamas brilliantly electro-lounge their way through 'Anna Lee, The Healer'; while French-crooning Spaniards Souvenir let their pretty idiosyncrasies roam free on 'Ne Dis Pas' ('Girl Don't Tell Me').

Perhaps if Marina Recordings hadn't featured so many artists from their own roster we might have been in for an even more spectral, shambolic riot of a 'tribute'. Minor quibbles aside, the many crests counter all doubts and the Wilson legacy remains unsullied. Be thankful. 7/10"
(nme.com, 8/00)

The Sunday Times Album Of The Week

"With most songwriters, the stated intention of this tribute album ­ to 'shy away from the obvious songs' ­ would be a huge mistake. But Brian Wilson has strength in depth. First there is his vast catalogue of hits: one of the most amazing things about 'Twenty Golden Greats', the compilation that turned another generation on to the Beach Boys in the 1970s, was that there really were 20 great songs on it. Then there are the songs aficionados know and love ­ 'This Whole World', 'Caroline, No', 'Til I Die', 'Melt Away' ­ many of which were collected on 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times', the wonderful album Wilson made with Don Was in 1995. 'Caroline Now!' digs even deeper than that, coming up with some gems that only Wilson obsessives will have heard of. Among the previously unreleased goodies are 'Lines', a late 1970s song about queueing for the cinema, and 'Stevie', an ode to Stevie Nicks. And while 'Go Away Boy' has been released (on a 1982 Honeys album), the superb version here by the Pearlfishers may be the first chance many of you have had to hear it. It's a chance you should grab with both hands. This is not some second-rate offcut: this is prime Brian, as is 'Wind Chimes' (sung here by Katrina Mitchell), 'Lonely Sea' (performed by Eric Matthews), and 'Do Ya', which Jad Fair re-creates in a musical style that is halfway between the Beach Boys and the Buzzcocks. As well as the Marina roster, Alex Chilton, the High Llamas and Saint Etienne pay homage here to a master. What finally strikes you is how many of these amazing songs come from the late 1970s (and even the 1980s), when conventional wisdom would have us believe Wilson was a washed-up, emotionally damaged shadow of his former self. Clearly not."
(The Sunday Times 6/8/00)

"This collection involves musicians from many countries but "Heroes & Villains" is the only UK hit included. The idea has been to dig into the Californian catalogue to find mostly 70s album tracks and others from related acts like the Honeys. The High Llamas offer a delightful, slowed-down "Anna Lee The Healer", Saint Etienne exhume the unreleased "Stevie" (Brian's song to Stevie Nicks), and ex-Box Top Alex Chilton has a gentle take on "I Wanna Pick You Up". Prime movers in the project (which includes a great booklet with rare Beach Boys photos by David Dalton) were Dug Stewart (ex-BMX Bandits) and Davie Scott (Pearlfishers). You won't find any carbon copies of Beach Boys harmonies here, but an exploration of another part of their catalogue, with stripped-down, exploratory takes such as Stevie Jackson's lovely "Good Time". Amid the contemporary acts are the Free Design (who reformed for this project) with a stunning version of "Endless Harmony" - harmonies and an arrangement to die for!" - (Kingsley Abbott, Record Collector 10/00)

"Himmlischer Pop ­ Alle Achtung. Welch ein Wagnis ­ was ein Erfolg! Tribut ist in den letzten zwei Jahrzehnten ja so ziemlich jedem anstaendigen Songwriter gezollt worden. Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Burt Bacharach oder Nick Drake. Jetzt ist Brian Wilson dran, zwar nicht zum ersten Mal, aber zum ersten Mal in einer Weise, die dem Legenden umwitterten Helden des Popsongs gerecht wird. Das erstaunliche Kompositionstalent Wilsons hat bislang fast alle Beach Boys-Cover-Versionen zu eher biederen Kopierversuchen degradiert. So war es lange Zeit vor allem Punkbands vorbehalten, die fruehen Surf-Nummern der Beach Boys runterzupruegeln.In den letzten Jahren ist die Zahl der Wilson-Bewunderer nicht nur rasant angestiegen, es tauchten auch zunehmend ernst zu nehmende Thronfolger auf, die mit aufwendigen Popmelodien und Arrangements auf sich aufmerksam machten. Auf CAROLINE NOW! will sich natuerlich niemand blamieren, und so haben sich alle Beteiligten maechtig ins Zeug gelegt. Die Auswahl ist gelungen, wurde doch der Fokus auf die weniger bekannten Songklassiker gelegt. Zudem wurden fuer diese Compilation gezielt Titel in Auftrag gegeben. Alex Chilton war der erste, der sich um 'I Wanna Pick You Up' vom 77er Album 'The Beach Boys Love You' kuemmern sollte - weitere Sensationen stellen die exklusiven Arbeiten von u.a. Saint Etienne, Kim Fowley, Stevie Jackson (Belle & Sebastian), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), High Llamas, Peter Thomas, die Reunion der 60s Pop-Legende The Free Design oder das Duett von 'Wild Things'-Komponist Chip Taylor mit Evie Sands dar. Rundum gelungene Covers von weiteren Vorzeige-Acts wie Jad Fair, The Pearlfishers oder Malcolm Ross (Orange Juice) zeugen davon, dass hier Leute mit Sinn und Verstand am Werk waren, die zudem fuer ein praechtiges 28-seitiges Booklet mit einem aktuellen Brian Wilson-Interview gesorgt haben. Was will man mehr? 6/6."
(ME/Sounds, 9/00)

"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. 'Caroline Now!' emphasizes lesser known Brian songs, as well as those of his underrated bandmates. Best are former Vaselines' Eugene KellyOs sumptuous, widescreen take on drummer Dennis Wilson's 'Lady'; the wonderful Pearlfishers (buy all of their albums now!) 'Go Away Boy' 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, frequently brilliant post-Pet Sounds catalogue. This is music that neither time nor fashion is going to diminish."
(EXCLAIM!)

"Brian Wilson and his lyricists are lovingly paid tribute to here by 24 obvious fans ­ Saint Etienne, The High Llamas, Alex Chilton. Standards are high with obscure songs wisely highlighted. Even those bored by Pet Sounds worship will find good versions here ­ the best being Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake's 'Only With You' and and a genuinely heartfelt finale of 'Almost Summer' from Los Angeleno maverick Kim Fowley."
(Q, 10/00)

"Tribute albums rarely come better than this. Over 24 tracks, the cream of International Pop Underground (Belle & Sebastian, Pastels, Jad Fair) and friends (St. Etienne, legendary 60s group Free Design, High Llamas) prove their devotion to the symphonic harmonic magic of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. The amount of care, love and affection that has clearly been lavished on this project ­ three years in the making ­ is enough to turn the head, but consider the quality of the recordings! From Eugene Kelly's opening, Spector-esque reading of the 1969 single 'Lady' to the closing, heartfelt dedication at the start of 'Almost Summer' from genius oddball producer Kim Fowley, there's barely a track that misses. Part of this is down to the choice of songs. Most tributes go for the obvious - not 'Caroline Now!'. St. Etienne turn in a bare bones version of the unreleased 'Stevie', Brian's tribute to Stevie Nicks, Duglas T. Stewart comes up with a sumptuous, Bacharach-style take on the unreleased late 70s track 'Lines', Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake delivers a Byrds-ian 'Only With You'. The sleeve-notes, too, are exhaustive. Not only is a track-by-track account of the album accompanied by an exclusive Brian Wilson interview conducted specially for this compilation, there are also loads of excellent, rare photographs in the 28-page booklet. The main reason that this tribute is so great, though, is because virtually everyone involved has lived, breathed and loved Brian for so long now. A fine, fine record."
(Everett True, playlouder.co.uk)

"The High Llamas, Eric Matthews and Saint Etienne are but three alt heroes touched by those largely ignored platters' production eccentricities, wandering melodies and resigned sense of suffering. They and twenty-one other winsome acts bypass big hits in favor of unreleased, overlooked or underappreciated Wilson/Beach Boys obscurities on 'Caroline Now!', a well-researched tribute that serves as a good starting point for adventurous listeners to hang ten beyond the Beach Boys' familiar shallows into deeper waters. Tracks like the Pearlfishers' moody 'Go Away Boy' and Kle's 'Rainbow Eyes' are both affectionately academic and mighty swell."
(Rolling Stone US 848)

"I find it rather disturbing that the only reason the name Brian Wilson is familiar to the majority of today’s music fans is because of the Barenaked Ladies. When it takes a bunch of bland Canadians to propel the name of one of America’s most gifted musical visionaries into the public consciousness, something is definitely wrong. For God’s sake, the man wrote and orchestrated Pet Sounds, an album which changed the face of pop music forever and is widely regarded as one of the defining moments in American Music. Only now, more than 30 years later are the album and its author getting the respect they deserve.

Nearly three years in the making, Caroline Now! is a fitting tribute to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and features a high-profile group of artists paying homage to the man from whose playbook they have been stealing pages for years. Rather than trawling out greatest hits like “God Only Knows,” “Help Me Rhonda” or “Fun Fun Fun”, Caroline Now! focuses on more obscure pieces culled from the Wilson canon. In fact, many of the songs here will be unfamiliar to anyone but the most devout of Wilsonophiles, although two of the album’s most inspired performances are of tracks pulled from Pet Sounds. First there’s the Aluminum Group’s sumptuous take on “Caroline, No”, which finds the Navin brothers’ trademark dueling vocals cascading over a sea of low-key beats and waves of mellifluous guitars. Then there is the Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra’s slippery bossa nova take on the instrumental "Pet Sounds" itself, which bends and pushes the arrangement into bold and exciting new rhythmic shapes and textures.

Other groups turn in wonderful performances of more obscure tunes. The High Llamas do their best to zap “Anna Lee, The Healer” into the 21st century. Alex Chilton lends his laid back boho cool to “I Wanna Pick You Up”, while Belle & Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson coos and strums his way through a shimmering version of “Good Time”. And I can't fail to mention the fact that 60s soft pop icons the Free Design have re-formed for the first time in 30 years to record a gorgeously serene version of “Endless Harmony”. Additional contributions from Saint Etienne, Eric Matthews, Katrina Mitchell and Jad Fair help round out the disc.

It's a testament to the strength of this album’s artist roster that 30 years down the line, many of the artists here will probably have tribute albums of their own. But remember that without the true pop genius of Brian Wilson, many of these bands wouldn't have had a musical leg to stand on. Caroline Now! serves as a reminder: please remember Brian Wilson as the man who wrote those beautiful “teenage symphonies to God”, and not merely the man who was “lying in bed” for all those years."
(Jason Jackowiak, Splendid, 08/00)

"This is a splendid tribute to a talent well worthy of such an honour."
(TNT 8/00)

"The selection both of the 24 songs and the artists can only be called 'exquisite'."
(Rolling Stone, 8/00)

"Coverversionen scheitern regelmaessig daran, dass altbekannte Lieder mit zu viel Ehrfurcht und zu wenig Ideen nachgeleiert werden. Das Beach Boys-Tribut-Album 'Caroline Now!' ist eine Ausnahme. Da werden exzellente Stuecke von Brian Wilson und Anhang so phantasievoll und versponnen vorgetragen, wie es den Autoren gebuehrt. Das besorgen Pop-Legenden wie Kim Fowley oder Alex Chilton und Fast-Pop-Stars wie Saint Etienne und The High Llamas. Und im Booklet beschwoert Obersurfer Wilson die heilende Kraft der Musik. Wie wahr!"
(Kultur Spiegel, 8/00)

 

 
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