Beach Boys fanatics aren't going to find out anything new from this cobbled-together documentary made available by EMI. It takes cuts from the Pet Sounds Sessions documentary from 1997, the Endless Harmony film and a new edit of interview material from Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds Live in London. There's also the section from George Martin's 1998 TV series Rhythm of Life where the great producer visits Los Angeles and fawns over Wilson.
But this is not to say it's a lost cause. Pet Sounds, of course, remains an album of such perfection as to deserve all this attention. What comes through most clearly here from interviews with all the Beach Boys, session musicians and Brian's co-writer Tony Asher, is the sense among involved that a spiritual, higher hand was guiding Wilson when he was producing the record. As Al Jardine says: "I don't know if even he knows where it came from."
It is somewhat satisfying for Brian-philes to see the likes of Mike Love proclaiming the genius of the record, when at the time he and other members of the band greeted Brian's opus with scepticism at its ambition. All of its soundscapes and complex arrangements must have confused poor Love's tiny mind.
Most fascinating is when Brian gets behind the decks and plays around with the original master tapes. Here, we get to hear the most intricate and intimate secrets of Pet Sounds, as he deconstructs all the sonic components to each song. The lushness of the vocals is most striking when unaccompanied, emphasising the chamber-music quality Brian was so maniacally striving for. It's easy to imagine the mad genius in the studio asserting a dictatorship over his musicians. Love dubs him, the 'Stalin of the studio', as well as 'dog ears', a reference to his ability to hear elements of music mortal ears cannot.
Caroline, No must be amongst the most perfect songs ever written in any genre. Its production, lyrics, melody and general heartbreaking gravitas make it so. Hearing it stripped down here is like discovering it for the first time.
In terms of writing, Tony Asher's contribution to Brian's Pet Sounds outstripped all the other Beach Boys. Their collaborations are remembered in fascinating detail, including the writing of God Only Knows in under an hour and Brian's constant meddling with the words to Wouldn't It Be Nice, which he describes as the happiest song he ever wrote.
Like I say, there is nothing here that hasn't been seen or heard before. The Pet Sounds Sessions Box Set offers more of the alternative-takes and unfinished versions of songs so tantalisingly heard here and there are more comprehensive film pieces available on the album's making. Indeed, this completely ignores the shaky state of Brian's mind in 1966. But if nothing else, itís a good introduction to scholarship of the record, we poignantly hear the views of the deceased Carl and Dennis Wilson and Brian offers the best method to listen to his masterpiece: "use earphones in the dark. You can hear everything".