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The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (DVD-Audio)
Reviewed By: Felix E. Martinez
Reviewed On: 08/09/03
Audio Format: Mono 96/24, 5.1 channel 96/24, Stereo 96/24, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
DVD Format: DVD-18
Length: 58 minutes
Release Date: 07/22/03
Packaging: Super Jewel Case
Region Code: 1
Studio: EMI
Catalog Number: 77937DVA

Grades & Ratings:

Audio
Extras
Menus
DVD-ROM
Movie

Expectations & Reactions:

There was a time when albums were merely collections of singles. No themes or musical concepts, no thread tying songs together for some greater purpose. No music for music’s sake. Just a package of previously-released material. That all changed in the mid-1960s and was finally laid to rest in 1966 with Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ masterwork and Brian Wilson’s musical juggernaut.

It’s no secret that The Beatles and The Beach Boys enjoyed a friendly, competitive relationship that fueled their creative output. Without the solid tracks pulsating within the Fab Four’s Rubber Soul, Wilson would not have been driven to top it with Pet Sounds. Without Sir Paul McCartney’s absolute love and respect for Wilson’s material on Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would not have altered the musical landscape forever. This one-upmanship was good for all parties, including the fans and casual listeners. Our culture and musical heritage has been enriched by the musical renaissance of the mid-late 1960s, and frankly, it looks like we need a little of that creative spark these days!

Wilson’s compositions on Pet Sounds (with lyricist Tony Asher), coupled with his multi-layered and complex instrumental arrangements, were so fresh, and so out of the mainstream, that the album didn’t immediately connect with fans. The grueling recording sessions also contributed to an ever-widening rift between Wilson and the other Beach Boys over the direction of the group. Wilson now confesses, “During Pet Sounds, I stepped out from the Beach Boys to bring my heart and soul to people.”

Back in 1966, the other Beach Boys must have thought the undertow had dragged 24 year-old Wilson far offshore.

In 1990, this landmark album was released on CD using a digitally cleaned and polished mono master. The effort was a resounding success, as a new generation of listeners was able to enjoy the classic recordings in the highest fidelity at the time. Seven years later, a multi-CD box set of The Pet Sounds Sessions was released, which included the first ever Brain Wilson-approved stereo mix of the album, in addition to a remastered mono mix using newer equipment to improve audio quality, and a variety of behind-the-scenes audio material from the recording sessions.

And now, EMI releases what is certainly one of the most anticipated DVD-Audio releases in the history of the format: Pet Sounds in high-resolution mono, stereo, and 5.1 surround sound, complemented by stunning array of supplemental material.

Audio & Mix:

If you’re a fan of the album, you might want to skip this section and just make a beeline for the store to pick up your copy. The entire package is that good. If you’ve never heard Pet Sounds before, stop reading, go buy it and listen, then come back and continue reading. I’m going to pick this baby apart and offer some criticism, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the final product or appreciate the Herculean effort in bringing Pet Sounds to DVD-Audio.

Mark Linett, the Grammy® award-winning producer and engineer that was responsible for bringing the entire Beach Boys Capitol-era recordings to CD, took extraordinary steps to create the definitive Pet Sounds experience for DVD- Audio. In order to produce the 5.1 surround mix, he had to revisit the original master tapes (which he had done before to do the stereo mix for the 1997 Sessions box set). This time, however, the tape transfers were done using current state-of-the-art Pacific Microsonics 96khz/24-bit HDCD converters.

But here’s the challenge Linett encountered: the original 1966 mono mixes by Wilson were finalized by recording instrumental parts on three or four-track recorders and then bouncing the results to yet another tape machine in mono, which then left a few tracks for vocals. In other words, the final multi-track master tape had several tracks of vocals and one track (a mono mix) of instruments. Doesn’t leave a lot of possibilities to separate and “re-map” the instruments into a 5.1 soundstage, does it? It also didn’t help that an occasional secondary vocal part was recorded “live-to-tape” during this bounce to the second machine, forever locking together the pieces in mono on the final multi-track master.

Linett’s solution, which he describes in the lengthy liner notes, was to go back to the primary multi-track tapes – before the instruments were bounced to mono – and transfer all the multi-tracked instruments into high-resolution digital files. The vocals recorded on the secondary tapes were then “manually synchronized, transferred and edited to create a complete multi-track master for each song.” Whew!

Here’s a comparison between the mono, stereo, and 5.1 mixes – all included on the DVD-Audio disc:

The mono mix is loud, somewhat harsh in the mid-range, and sports audible tape hiss. The stereo and 5.1 surround re-mixes are notably clearer, cleaner, and smoother in their tonal balance. For the 5.1 mix, Linett places a substantial amount of the lead vocals into the surrounds, which contributes to an odd, “in your face” (or “in your ear”) quality. Vocals are also thin, compressed, and harsh in the 5.1 mix. The stereo version is actually very effective in its balance, dynamics, and arrangement of instrument and voices, and is my preferred listening choice. Had Linett backed off on the use of the surround speakers for the lead vocals and re-assessed his use (or non-use) of EQ and/or dynamics processing for the lead vocals, the 5.1 mix would have been a home run.

As if to confirm this, the instrumental tracks on Pet Sounds come across beautifully in 5.1: instruments are stunning in their newfound space, tape hiss is dramatically reduced, and the dynamic range and frequency response of these tracks belie their 1966 vintage. To be fair, the cause of thinness in the vocals might be traced back to engineering choices made during their original recording, but then I’m not sure why the vocals in the mono and stereo mixes sound more pleasing to my ear.

Comparing the DVD-A to the original digital master of Pet Sounds is a fantastic way to hear what 13 years of audio progress sounds like. It’s no surprise that current high-resolution audio clearly wins out in overall clarity and smoothness of the audio “image.” But what is surprising is that the level of the first digital master is not as “hot” and actually provides a less fatiguing listening experience, even when volume levels are matched. I’m also disappointed to hear what appears to be digital clipping in the tracks on the DVD-A. For example, there’s a very audible click 22 seconds into the hi-res mono mix of “You Still Believe In Me” (the stereo remix has a similar noise 13 seconds into the track). These clicks are not present in the first digital master. I don’t have the Sessions box set, so I’m not sure if these noises are present in that release.

I may be way out on a limb here, but I can hear more subtle “clicks” throughout the 5.1 mix of Pet Sounds. I don’t hear as many noises in the mono or stereo mixes, but they are certainly audible in 5.1 – particularly if you are sitting in the “sweet spot.” These glitches might date back to the original recording, but here’s another theory: perhaps the quirks occurred in the syncing of the vocal and instrumental tracks, or in the editing of the parts to create the final multi-track master. Who knows? The bottom line is that the clicks are there and may be somewhat distracting to some listeners.

The dual sided, dual layered (DVD-18) disc houses DVD-Video-compatible audio content on the side labeled “DVD-Video Players” (Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks, mono and stereo 96khz/24-bit PCM tracks), and hi-res content on the “DVD-Audio Players” side. The DVD-Audio Group assignments for each of the 96khz/24-bit options are: 5.1 surround (Group 1), stereo (Group 2), mono (Group 4).

The stereo and mono mixes included on both sides of the disc are identical, as they are the same uncompressed PCM audio files. While the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks hold their own against the hi-res MLP 5.1 option, they do take a hit with respect to spatial imaging. In order of transparency, I would rank the 96/24 track at the top, then the DTS option, followed closely behind by the Dolby Digital track.

Extras & Highlights:

A healthy set of special features is duplicated on both sides of the disc to ensure full compatibility for every DVD player. All video content is displayed in full-screen mode, and varies in quality depending on the historical footage used.

Pet Sounds Videos are comprised of four items. Pet Sounds Sessions Documentary – 1997 (14 minutes) includes interviews with Beach Boys members Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, and Dennis Wilson, along with Tony Asher (Pet Sounds' lyricist) on the genesis, composition, and recording of the Pet Sounds project. Artists Tom Petty and Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) also chime in on this piece and discuss their thoughts on Pet Sounds. Sloop John B Promo Video – 1966/1997 (3 minutes) is an MTV-style video of the song using footage of the Beach Boys from the period and the Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix of song. The soundtrack for Sloop John B Original Promo Film – 1966 (3 minutes) is horribly slowed-down, but it’s the mono mix as used in the original film. The footage in this piece is comprised of home movies of the Beach Boys frolicking in a pool. Pet Sounds LP Original Promo Film – 1966 (5 minutes) is a promo film featuring fragments of three songs in Dolby Digital 5.1 (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Here Today,” “God Only Knows”) as a soundtrack to rather odd, “humorous” Beach Boys shenanigans captured on film. Excerpts of this film are included in the Pet Sounds Sessions Documentary.

A Photo Gallery includes 30 pages of photos of the Pet Sounds recording sessions, along with period pictures of the band.

Brian Wilson’s Message, Liner Notes, The Making of Pet Sounds, Track Notes, Sessionography, Technical Notes, and Credits are all reproduced from the Super Jewel Box booklet.

The Beach Boys Discography includes pictures of album covers, along with audio excerpts.

EMI DVD-Audio Titles lists other DVD-Audio titles available from EMI.

Lyrics are included for each song.

Several Bonus Audio Tracks are presented in the multiple audio formats and provide a real treat for fans that have always wanted to be a “fly on the wall” during the recording of Pet Sounds. “Unreleased Backgrounds” is an unused intro for “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” and is an impressive display of Wilson’s four-octave voice. Then there are session highlights for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows,” in addition to alternate mixes sans lead vocals for both songs. An a cappella mix for “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and the instrumental, “Summer Means New Love,” round out the bonus tracks.

A startling omission is “Hold On To Your Ego,” a song that was partially re-written and re-recorded to produce the final Pet Sounds track, “I Know There’s An Answer.” Unless this bonus feature is included as an Easter egg, it’s unfortunately MIA.

Menus & Interface:

The disc is authored so that the first track, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” plays immediately. The Main Menu is a motion menu of snapshots and footage of The Beach Boys, underscored by an intriguing audio montage of musical fragments from Pet Sounds. The Main Menu options include: Tracklist, Bonus Materials, and Set-Up.

Under Set-Up, About DVD-Audio includes info on the format and a “how-to” guide for navigating the disc with DVD-Audio and DVD-Video players. This is great info, but should have been included in the booklet. After all, if you find the guide, you’re navigating the disc!

ROM & Weblinks:

Weblinks to www.BrianWilson.com and www.CapitolRecords.com are provided.

Song & Tracklisting:

  1. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
  2. You Still Believe In Me
  3. That’s Not Me
  4. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
  5. I’m Waiting For The Day
  6. Let’s Go Away For Awhile
  7. Sloop John B
  8. God Only Knows
  9. I Know There’s An Answer
  10. Here Today
  11. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times
  12. Pet Sounds
  13. Caroline No
  14. Unreleased Backgrounds – Unused Intro For “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”
  15. Wouldn’t It Be Nice – Session Highlights
  16. Wouldn’t It Be Nice – Alternative Mix Without Lead Vocal
  17. God Only Knows – Session Highlights
  18. God Only Knows – Master Track Mix With A Capella Tag
  19. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times – A Capella Mix
  20. Summer Means New Love
Artists & Technicians:

The Beach Boys are: Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, and Dennis Wilson. Original Mono album produced by Brian Wilson. Stereo and surround sound mix produced and engineered by Mark Linett under the supervision of Brian Wilson. Remastered by Joe Gastwirt. Surround sound mastered by Steve Hall and Joe Gastwirt.

As previously mentioned, a full Sessionography, as well as Track and Technical Notes are included on the disc and in the liner notes of the booklet.

Conclusions & Afterthoughts:

EMI’s DVD-A of Pet Sounds is so jammed with content, and boasts so many listening options, that it’s easy to overlook any audio imperfections. While I appreciate the limitations of the original source material, I have to say that I’m still a bit disappointed by some aspects of the audio tracks in this release. However, it’s not a deal-breaker, and I still encourage music fans to pick it up – it’s still one of the most amazing pieces of popular music in the last century.

But enough of my yappin’. Here are some thoughts on Pet Sounds from other artists to get you in the mood:

Sir Paul McCartney: “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life…I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album...I've often played Pet Sounds and cried.

“‘God Only Knows” is a big favorite of mine. On “You Still Believe In Me,” I love that melody…it's so beautiful right at the end…(it) comes surging back in these multi-colored harmonies…sends shivers up my spine.”

George Martin: “If there is one person that I have to select as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson. Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”

Bob Dylan: “Jesus, that ear. He should donate it to The Smithsonian.”

Elton John: “Pet Sounds is a landmark album. For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.”

Lindsey Buckingham: “The first time I heard Pet Sounds, I have to admit that I did a little bit of knee-jerk in the same way probably the record company and some other people did, because it wasn't as accessible as Brian's songwriting approach had been up to that time. I'm not sure I fully appreciated that until years later (when) I started making records myself.”

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