ALBUMS / Summer, the first time and then some: Andy Gill on the boxed set of almost everything you wanted to hear from the Beach Boys

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The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (Capitol CDS 7899362); Summer In Paradise (EMI CDEMD 1046)

ASTONISHINGLY, Good Vibrations claims to be 'the first-ever comprehensive musical retrospective' of The Beach Boys. It may be true, but it doesn't seem like it; their back catalogue has been exploited to that point of saturation where their most famous songs appear to be part of an eternal reissue programme. Is there an attic left that doesn't hold at least one Beach Boys hits compilation?

But Good Vibrations doesn't just restrict itself to the hits: these five CDs take us all the way from soup to nuts. Four of the discs deal with the groups progress from a spunky teen demo of 'Surfin' USA' to the middle-aged ignominy of 'Getcha Back' and 'Kokomo', while the fifth offers out-takes, vocal tracks and derelict fragments. The first CD manages to race through the surf and car songs up to the brink of Brian Wilson's maturity with the more introspective leanings of the Today] album, which doesn't leave all that much to spread across the other three discs.

Hence the third and, particularly, the fourth CDs chart the accelerating artistic decline of the group, while the second contains the pinnacle achievement of Pet Sounds and its tilting over into the airhead whimsy of the aborted Smile sessions. Pet Sounds is the landmark work most indicative of the increasing complexity of pop music in the late Sixties; Paul McCartney's favourite record, it broke new ground with arrangements that seemed to turn the common languages of pop and orchestral music on their heads. Some measure of the heights Wilson scaled with Pet Sounds can be gained from the fact that, despite providing eight tracks, it is still under-represented here.

The real meat of the matter, and the main selling point of the box, are the buffed-up fragments from the Smile sessions. These tracks are sensitive, certainly, but also laboured and, in several cases, just musical babbling, with Brian running off at the ear as the acid took over. And as soon as you hear the first of the reinstated lines of 'Heroes and Villains', - 'In the cantina, Margarita keeps the spirits high' - your heart sinks: it's only marginally more welcome than the dire 1979 10-minute disco mix of 'Here Comes the Night' that's included on a sixth disc of European hits: surely, you think, they can crawl no lower than this?

Then you hear Summer In Paradise, their latest album, and you realise that there is no limit to the depths they can plumb. Botched, sloppy covers of old hits like 'Under the Boardwalk' and 'Hot Fun in the Summertime', as many other songs as they could scrape together with 'summer' in the title and even an excruciating remake of 'Surfin' ' done to the kind of hip hop backing that merely reveals how little hip hop they listen to. It is jaw-droppingly awful, a fitting example of the 'commercial' cul-de-sac up which Mike Love has led them. Ignore it and buy another copy of Pet Sounds instead.

UB40 - Promises and Lies (Virgin CDDEP 15)

THANKS, perhaps, to the wealth of classic Jamaican reggae material that remains largely unknown outside the specialist confines of the genre, UB40 have managed to become one of the world's top covers bands - their last LP of old faves, Labour of Love II, sold some five million copies. Their own material, though, is more modestly equipped for success, sticking mainly to slight homilies of love and morality like 'Promises and Lies' and 'Things Ain't Like they Used to Be'.

'Sorry', for instance, closes the album with a general post-colonial demand for remuneration that has a universal echo across the world. It's a modern reflection of the way in which, under Bob Marley's leadership, reggae music came to represent a sympathy for the downtrodden - in whose service Ali Campbell's voice sounds apologetic and acquiescent, but passionately so. The track 'Reggae Music' toasts the band's success as simply a corollary of their friendship and shared love of roots reggae - though the more likely successes here, 'Higher Ground' and 'Bring Me Your Cup', feature a dancehall computer-reggae style in the Steely & Clevie mould; but even in these cases, Campbell's mellow vocals manage to root the tracks in a more organic tradition. Pleasant enough, but hardly earth-shattering.

David Sylvian & Robert Fripp - The First Day (Virgin CDVX 2712)

THE FIRST DAY is as close as Robert Fripp has come to the old King Crimson style in decades, with tracks like the 11-minute-long '20th Century Dreaming' and 17-minute 'Darshan' following austere and angular jazz-funk paths before locking into more modern, ambient-techno grooves.

At times, the musos - besides Fripp and Sylvian, there's Jerry Marotta on drums, and Trey Gunn on 'stick' bass - play with that tightly-knotted quality common to much Seventies art-rock, everyone determined to make their part as impressively difficult as possible. You only have to glance at Gunn's stick thing, with its superabundance of strings, to know he's going to want to play more of them than perhaps a bassist ought. And so it proves:

Some of the best moments are the result of Fripp's transparent-sounding 'Frippertronic' style, glistening guitar loops sustained to infinity and layered like showers of diamonds. Sylvian, meanwhile, might have lost the visual fragility of his Japan years but his voice is as emotionally amorphous as ever, sounding simultaneously soulful and alienated. The only time it comes up short is on 'Brightness Falls', where a heavy drum sample inspires the group to try a 'Foxy Lady'-style riff: with Sylvian's delicate vocal perched atop, it's like a tank firing feathers.

(Photograph omitted)

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