Made in California
Designed as the triumphant conclusion to the Beach Boys 50th anniversary reunion, Made in California is indeed something of an extravaganza. Packaged as a hardcover yearbook -- a motif that runs right through to the liner notes, which include a high school piece by Brian Wilson among the various essays, along with plenty of rare photos -- Made in California makes no secret of hiding its nostalgia, but that doesn't mean the average Beach Boys fan wishing to take a stroll down memory lane should turn to this luxurious box. This six-disc set may tell the Beach Boys story quite thoroughly, but the devil is indeed in the details, details that may only compel the devoted. Certainly, Made in California is filled with rarities and oddities, some genuinely rare and unreleased, with the bulk of the set comprised of many alternate mixes, vocal sessions, instrumental tracks, radio spots, and an abundance of live tracks from throughout the years. Along the way, all the hits are unveiled in some fashion, but the compilers have made a practice of choosing interesting or intriguing mixes over original hit single mixes; for Pet Sounds alone, the selected songs ping-pong between 1996 and 2001 stereo mixes, while elsewhere there are stereo mixes from 2003, 2007, 2009, and 2012, along with the occasional mono mix. All those dates suggest just how often the Beach Boys catalog has been remastered and reissued over the years, but there is only one real corollary in their catalog: the 1993 five-disc box Good Vibrations. Twenty years on, the remastering has certainly improved but that's not the only reason Made in California has an edge over Good Vibrations. Those two decades brought an official restoration of The Smile Sessions and, in 2012, the 50th Anniversary reunion album That's Why God Made the Radio, which provides a better, sweeter conclusion to the group's story than "Kokomo." That said, this 174-track box finds a way to overlook plenty of great, even important, songs from all eras of the Beach Boys, with "She Knows Me Too Well," "Getting Hungry," "Funky Pretty," and "You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone" being among the prominent inexplicable omissions. Thing is, the listeners who will really dig into the box -- the ones who will thrill to the early demos as much as they do to the unreleased Dennis Wilson songs, as well as the unreleased "California Feeling" -- won't care that these songs are missing, as they'll have them somewhere else in their collection, and the casual fan will be fine without them. But even if it tells the Beach Boys story thoroughly, Made in California is most decidedly not for the casual fan. It is for the dedicated, the kind who knows the story by heart but wants to hear it told slightly differently. For them, it's worth taking this roundabout journey while immersing themselves in the packaging; those with less invested will likely prefer sticking to the familiar paths provided by either the original albums or concise compilations.