Calling a record “important” is somewhat akin to being told to “eat your spinach.” Blecch. What about music that just tastes good? Herein lies the problem to solve with any 50th anniversary reissue (in this case, the golden anniversary of Brian Wilson’s magnum opus, the LP that in so many ways has come to define ’60s pop and Wilson’s entire oeuvre): relevance.
This is timeless, classic stuff; indeed, some of the finest and most fussed-over moments in recorded music history. But the band’s core audience likely already owns this album in multiple formats, while millennials see these songs as museum pieces (worthy of reverence and oldies formats, but not earbud time) vs. the gems they truly are. It’s unclear whether this four-disc retrospective will actually solve for “making surf modern again”: mono plus stereo mixes, session outtakes including backing tracks and vocals-only stacks of the variety the internet now routinely up-votes to “trending,” plus new live cuts. But if it only serves to remind us that Wilson’s core themes of the exhilaration of love (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the immortal “God Only Knows”) and the inevitable disappointment and darkness when it dissolves (“That’s Not Me,” “I’m Waiting For The Day,” “Caroline, No”) are as pivotal to soundtracking life today as they ever were, then it was worth the effort.
History has been kinder to this record than the public was upon its release in 1966 (Pet Sounds was initially a critical and commercial disappointment); thank Christ for the wisdom of hindsight. Greatness, as it turns out, is great in any era.