The String Quartet Tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds

Vitamin String Quartet

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The String Quartet Tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds Review

by Steve Leggett

Vitamin Records is a virtual string quartet tribute factory, releasing dozens of albums that recast the work of pop artists in a chamber setting, including such unlikely candidates as Sonic Youth, AC/DC, Korn, 2Pac, and even George Strait and Clay Aiken. For this release, a string quartet tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, it would seem that they've finally picked something that might actually make sense. Pet Sounds is widely acknowledged to be Brian Wilson's masterpiece, and the gorgeously arranged vocals of the original record, coupled with Wilson's graceful, beautiful melodies and the subtle and perfectly constructed soundscapes Wilson built to support it all make it seem like the ideal candidate for the Vitamin tribute touch. Dubbed the Angry String Orchestra (don't worry, they don't sound even remotely angry on this record), the quartet used here consists of David Keen on violin and viola, Deborah Assael on cello, Michael Goetz on double bass and Doug Munro (who also arranged and produced the session) on percussion. Two things are immediately apparent when you pop this disc in for a spin. First, as expected, Wilson's songs have wonderful melodies, and tracks like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," and "Caroline No" all coast along on lead lines so easy and graceful that they seem to have existed forever. But a good part of Pet Sounds' special charm is the fragile, delicate, and somewhat sad and yearning feel the lyrics bring to the table, especially when sung in the impeccably arranged vocal style that made the Beach Boys who they were as recording artists. Without those voices and the sentiments they sing, Pet Sounds loses its gentle, desperate tension, and becomes merely pretty. And pretty this album is, but in the end it glides by without leaving much of an aftertaste. Pet Sounds is a perfect pop album because it is a perfect pop album, brilliantly expressing the adolescent desire to be grown and whole in the world, but a little afraid, too, of that world. Stripped of those hopes and fears, which are perfectly expressed by the voices of the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds is diminished, however pretty you can make it sound.

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