First Love, Last Rites – Music From The Motion Picture

The Beach Boys CD releases which culminated in last year's 'Pet Sounds' box set added many unreleased tracks and outtakes to the vinyl album versions ...

THE BEACH BOYS CD RELEASES which culminated in last year’s ‘Pet Sounds’ box set added many unreleased tracks and outtakes to the vinyl album versions. So you might expect ‘Endless Harmony’ – put together in the shadow of Carl Wilson’s death as a companion piece to a new two-part TV documentary – to be a barrel-scraping exercise, visiting parts of the sandbox even the most besotted aficionado would baulk at.

Fear not. This is a literally fabulous journey through an unreleased, alternative B-Boy paradise. Gathering together musical departures, masterfully conceived demos, and a particular abundance of live gems, it’s a masterstroke of its kind, confirming the group’s prolificacy and life-affirming brilliance in much the same way as Dylan’s ‘Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3’.

Indeed, while the legend of brother Brian’s compositional brilliance and studio wizardry is reconfirmed by such delights as the jazztastic opener ‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’, a poised, trance-like mix of ‘Til I Die’, the ornate acid-era outtake ‘Loop De Loop’, and a tender, beautifully detailed demo for ‘Breakaway’, the record is a resounding epitaph for Carl. Try his live version of ‘Darlin” recorded at Knebworth in 1980: long past the group’s golden period, but the impassioned performance is the stuff of champions.

A strong case for the BBs being the most consistent live act of their generation runs throughout ‘Endless Harmony’ – the mix of rocking abandon, choirboy decorum and sensual glee they bring to ‘Good Vibrations’ at Finsbury Park in 1968, the thunderously raw and dirty segue of ‘Wonderful’/’Don’t Worry Bill’ and the hushed awe and supernal longing of ‘God Only Knows’ from an abandoned 1967 in-concert album.

The cornball showbiz side of the group is well to the fore in Bruce Johnston’s camply lavish, patriotic closing title track. Meanwhile, their presiding transcendental boor Mike Love gives their presiding genius a backhanded compliment in the deliciously barbed celebration ‘Brian’s Back’ ([I]”I never knew that he was gone”[/I], shrugs Mike). Brian’s ability to coax his brothers, friends and cousins to the heights of a feminised free-for-all may be their lasting legacy, but the sort of emotional exposure offered up on the takes of ‘Surfer Girl’, ‘Kiss Me Baby’ and ‘California Girls’ is something their successors have shied away from.

Two tracks from a warped, husky and badly burned Dennis – ‘Barbara’ (no relation, thankfully, to ‘Barbara Ann’) and ‘All Alone’ – act as the perfect requiem for the sanctified visions explored elsewhere. Here is the only surfing B-Boy trawling murky oceanic depths of despair and wonder. Haunted by memory, hounded by destiny.

All told ‘Endless Harmony’ is The Beach Boys in all their dizzying, perplexing majesty. Irreplaceable.