Friday, March 11, 2005

Review: Brian Wilson, Smile

Here it is... a mere 38 years in the making. And let's be honest, how could the ultimate realization of a disc widely heralded as one of the great lost classics of the rock era (if not the great lost classic) be anything other than... well, really crappy? Honestly, this album deserves to suck, and suck badly. Which makes it such a shock to conclude that... hey, it's pretty great. Maybe not as great as the Beach Boys' version (as cobbled together on various bootlegs from the various tracks that have come out, both officially and unofficially, since the original concept was scrapped in '67), but, all things considered, this is one disc which, if not exactly living up to the legend, is at least far from embarrassing.

No need to rehash the sordid history of Smile, which is well-documented elsewhere. But for many of us, it's the great album that never was. I've got a few bootleg versions of it, as well as my own version cobbled together from the various Beach Boys tracks supposedly intended for the album which wound up on the lesser Smiley Smile, 20/20, Surf's Up, and the Good Vibrations Box Set. And while it wasn't perfect, I always thought it was great -- better than the (perhaps overrated?) Pet Sounds, maybe better than Sgt. Pepper. When I heard last year that Brian Wilson had finally been talked into teaming up with indie pop maestros The Wondermints (who'd backed him on his recent solo tours) to rerecord the album, I had mixed feelings. Yes, a fully-realized disc, with today's fidelity standards, would be great -- but why not use the original Beach Boys tracks? Oh well. So, bottom line -- it sounds great. The songs are as wonderful (and, alas, as badly dated) as indicated by the bootleg versions. But the magic of those original God-like Beach Boy harmonies is, of course, long gone. Wilson can still sing (mostly), and the Wondermints do a fine job of emulating the original backing vocals, but it's missing a certain spark. If you can get past that, however (and sometimes I can, sometimes I can't), it's an excellent record. I'll probably listen to it less frequently than my homemade Beach Boys version, but if I want a pristine-sounding, polished version, it's just fine.

Check out some Smile samples at


At 10:53 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Obviously SMiLE is a classic album and it contains some of my favorite Brian Wilson and Beach Boys songs. But, I've always been a fan of some of the later albums that had more input from the other Boys like Dennis and Al. The LA (Light Album) has a great mix of songs, even though it has some throwaway tracks.

So, for me, I like the more balanced albums, but that doesn't take away from the genius of SMiLE, especially since Brian Wilson finally went back to it after all those years.


The Laptop Sessions Cover Songs


Post a Comment

<< Home