In the final weeks of 2018, Beach Boys fans were treated to something unexpected: a rare copyright term limit, digital-only, release of three collections from their vaults. The emancipated material includes the Brian Wilson produced Friends Sessions, the fantastic live performances that document Beach Boys On Tour: 1968, and I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions.
And while all possess their individual highlights, it’s this final volume that particularly stands out. Mainly because Friends, an already acknowledged post-Smile masterpiece in the Wilson arsenal, does not necessarily benefit from the advantage of a microscopic lens. It’s already a great album, no matter how many times you break down the acapellas, instrumentals and alternate takes. But here, contained in the 20/20 Sessions (culminating in what Beach Boy Dennis Wilson once deemed “the only letdown of the Beach Boys’ career that embarrassed me through and through”) there is newly advanced evidence of what could have been. Demos, instrumentals, working ideas and a gamut of stoned musings are fused together to form an infinitely more interesting album than what was ultimately released in 1969.
In an era often obscured by Brian Wilson’s own personal demons, these sessions further illustrate that the group, notably brothers Carl and Dennis, had their own ideas of how to forge on. The recording quality throughout is spot on – the ideas so rampant there’s no way to discern what’s usable and what is not. This is woodshedding at its most raw; its most unbridled. Most fascinating are the “Sections” tracks, such as “Been Away Too Long”, which demonstrate the writing and editing process clearly in a state of flow.
At 40 tracks, the collection feature enough unfinished songs, melodic musings, instrumental psych-jazz noodlings (and beyond) to keep the listener in awe throughout. Repeated listens are both rewarding and encouraged. Perhaps if 20/20 had been presented in this more fragmented, bare-boned/experimental approach (see: Smiley Smile) history may have viewed it as an exceptional post-Brian work. words / z biggs
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