Drake’s Take: New Releases 11.01.11

The 20th anniversary reissue of ‘Achtung Baby’ makes me feel old. -ed.

Drake’s Take: New Releases 11.01.11 by Drake Lelane

Beach Boys / U2
The Beach Boys at Columbia Studios in 1966 / U2 at Hansa Studios in Berlin, 1990

Every year, the holiday season seems to encroach the release schedule earlier and earlier. The first week of November usually gets at least a few late entry quality full length releases, but this year all are overshadowed by two box set releases of giants-of-their-era artists in The Beach Boys and U2. SMiLe (recorded 1965-1967, never officially finished) and Achtung Baby (1991) both represented incredible trials and breaking points in the studio life for both The Beach Boys and U2. While SMiLe ultimately broke Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys irreparably, Achtung Baby breathed new life into U2, breaking them from the tight box that The Joshua Tree had helped build.

The only proper full lengths this week of note end up being from Florence and the Machine and Girl in a Coma (unless you count the odd atrocity that is Lou Reed & Metallica, and after a couple listens, I’d prefer to ignore it). Otherwise, Shelby Earl‘s excellent debut (produced by The Long Winters‘ John Roderick) is getting wide release, there’s an EP from The Decemberists (possibly their last?), an odds and ends collection from They Might Be Giants, along with a slew of compilations and reissues that the holiday season seems to demand this time of year.

Playlist: New Releases 11.01.11

The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions (2CD) / Box Set (5 CDs / 2LPs / 2 7″ singles)
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The Beach Boys - The SMiLE Sessions Box Set

Long considered the Holy Grail of pop, The Beach Boys’ long lost SMiLe has had music collectors scrambling for years, compiling bits and pieces from bootlegs and partial releases over the years. The undertaking of Brian Wilson’s incredible vision of a “teenage symphony to God” from 1966-1967 ultimately broke both the man and the band, sending Wilson into seclusion after a Mike Love-led coup found the recordings too weird. In 2003, The Wondermints helped Brian Wilson exercise some of theses demons, sequencing and arranging the tracks for a live performance, and later released as Brian Wilson presents SMiLe (2004). While these events may have stolen some of the thunder and mystery of the original recordings, laying out the track and sequence we see this week, the multiple discs of The SMiLe Sessions Box Set contain a treasure trove of studio excerpts that help paint a fuller picture of what Wilson was up to in the studio. Legendary tales of Wilson have him high on LSD, wearing a fireman’s hat and freaking out that the power of his music may have caused a fire down the street. That’s the kind of drama that history likes to remember, but the snippets from Sessions paint Wilson as someone in control, enthusiastic and generally in a mood to collaborate with his vision of the project. It’s especially fascinating hearing the various backing vocal sessions, knowing all the work it took back in the day to record all the various parts, something taken for granted in today’s modern Pro Tools-driven studio.

It’s tempting to wonder what impact that SMiLe would’ve had on the music landscape back in 1967 if it had been released, and what the Beach Boys would’ve been afterwards. It’s likely that it would’ve been met with head scratching initially, but like Pet Sounds did with influencing The Beatles on Sgt Peppers, SMiLe might have pushed pop music (Beatles and others) to even greater heights. As it stands, Sessions is a great document of what might have been, and another bit of evidence of just how brilliant Brian Wilson’s vision was.

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U2 – Achtung Baby (Super Deluxe Edition)
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U2 - Achtung Baby, Super Deluxe Edition

After the debacle that was Rattle and Hum – however well-intentioned the vanity project was meant — U2 found themselves in need of a new direction. They’d pretty much played out their American fascination out between The Joshua Tree and R&H, so they returned to a concept that they’d tried out with The Unforgettable Fire, a project which it might be said, failed beautifully. David Bowie’s collaborations with Brian Eno, along what was going on with the dance-crazy Madchester scene, were the starting points, and the band holed up in Berlin at Hansa Studios to try and make it work. As the recent documentary, From the Sky Down (which premiered recently on Showtime and is included in the Super and Uber Deluxe Editions), showed, the recordings were wrought with tension and frustration, as the band nearly broke apart trying to change its sound. Bono lyrically tried to move from the earnestness of politics opting for the first time for irony, but much of the earnestness remains, as evident their massive hit “One.” So while Achtung Baby represented a new sound for the band, it still was for all intense and purposes, a U2 record (their best to date), setting the stage for the bigger change that was Zooropa, and the larger deluxe editions include early versions of tracks from what would become that album (like “Numb”). Aside from an ill-advised dance-y cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Fortunate Son,” bonus tracks on the simple Deluxe edition are previously available b-sides and, more interesting, remixes of the singles. Interesting in that this is the first album in the bands’ catalog where a remix seems even possible.

More on the radar (and in the mp3 player) this week:
The Decemberists – Long Live the King EP
Florence & the Machine – Ceremonials
Girl in a Coma – Exits & All That Glory / “Smart” [mp3]
Shelby Earl – Burn the Boats
They Might Be Giants – Album Raises New and Troubling Questions
Wale – Ambition
Mike Patton – The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Pyyramids – Human Beings EP
The Soft Moon – Total Decay EP
Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu
Robin Bacior – Rest Our Wings / “Ohio” [mp3]
Have Gun, Will Travel – Mergers & Acquisitions
Low Roar – Low Roar
The Loom – Teeth
Jupe Jupe – Reduction in Drag / “Once Around the Sun,” “Suspicion” [mp3]
Lightyear – All of the Miles
Brite Futures – Dark Past
With Lions – Touch the Sound

Jethro Tull – Aqualung (40th Anniversary)