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caroline now
Various Artists
Caroline Now! The Songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys


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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

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