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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After 37 years, Wilson�s masterpiece has finally arrived!, 24 Nov 2004
This review is from: Smile [VINYL] (Vinyl)
The most famous unfinished album of the rock era, SMiLe has long haunted rock fans with those unanswerable "What ifs?" Often thought of as the ultimate answer to the OTHER record of 1967, The Beatles' SGT PEPPER, SMiLe never quite made it to the store shelves. Wilson had a nervous breakdown, he was on too many drugs, the Beach Boys (in particular Mike Love) didn't want to do the record, and he was growing progressively paranoid. The collapse of the SMiLe sessions is well documented, and the record has entered into the rock canon as one of the most illusive albums ever.
Brian Wilson had developed some astonishing production techniques, and constructed the landmark single "Good Vibrations" out of an idealogy he called modular recording. He planned to follow up "Good Vibrations" with an entire album of suite songs in similar style, using Americana as its foundation. His plan was to construct a 'teenage symphony to God."
Do to drugs, pressure from Capitol, his own quickly deteriorating mental condition, and the antagonism the Beach Boys directed to the project, by the summer of 1967 Brian Wilson abandoned SMiLe, seemingly permanently. Whenever asked about it in ensuing years, Wilson would have nothing to do with it, saying SMiLe was inapproriate music.
As the years passed, SMiLe's fame grew to mythic proportions, becoming the Holy Grail of the rock canon. Many of the sessions leaked out over the years, and several SMiLe songs found their way onto Beach Boy LPs during the late 1960s and 1970s. Wilson became increasingly withdrawn, and from what I've read of him became very bizarre. SMiLe was written off as the greatest album never released, and Wilson's ultimate masterpiece. The 1966-67 sessions have been heavily bootlegged, and there have been several bootleg and fan reconstructions of the project.
The myth of SMiLe embodied the fragile creative spirit. As long as SMiLe stayed in the vaults as an unfinished album, it would always remain as an perfect record. So it came as quite a shock when, after a successful tour of PET SOUNDS, in 2004 Brian Wilson decided to reconstruct the project and release it. Understandably, many people were filled with trepidation. After all, Wilson is 62, and his voice isn't what it use to be. And, ultimately, what if the album just isn't that good?
Thankfully, these fears can be laid to rest. Not only does SMiLe come off as a wonderfully brilliant album, the project now has cohesion that the 66-67 sessions were lacking. Now SMiLe sounds like a completed work.
I haven't listened to a lot of the 66-67 sessions, but what I have heard sounds remarkably mimicked here. There are some questions the official SMiLe just begs, going back to the earlier tapes: judging from Wilson's intent here, you can only assume, listening to the old sessions, that SMiLe was never that far from completion when Wilson abandoned it. The music sounds remarkably close to the original sessions.
But for all that can be said of the original sessions, the fact remains Wilson completed the album in 2004. There is no 1967 SMiLe. This is the only official SMiLe we have.
And what a wonderful set of music. Fulfilling all the promises set out in the landmark single "Good Vibrations," SMiLe builds on Wilson's modular techniques and creates an astonishingly original, daring, and beautiful artistic breakthrough. Though impossible to know, had SMiLe been released in 1967, I think it would have been as critically praised as SGT PEPPER. SMiLe is a lot messier, and almost operatic in its three suites.
While SGT PEPPER was quasi-concept at best (I believe PEPPER's concept was more psychological than having to do with the music itself), SMiLe is fully enchanted with Americana, and builds its core around America. SMiLe is very much an American artistic statement. While PEPPER covered more of a musical history, SMiLe takes America and its history as its principal inspiration. The Elemental Suite is great. ("Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" gave me chills the first time I heard it; if there's a song giving off incredibly strange vibrations that one definitely is). The inclusion of "Good Vibrations" on the end doesn't really fit in the elemental Suite. I feel there are two ends to this album. "Blue Hawaii," the end to the Suite. Then "Good Vibrations" is like a bonus cut. Originally, Capitol wanted "Good Vibrations" on the album in the 1960s and Wilson wanted to leave it off, but he caved (which is why the original cover art prominently displays the song). It is little surprise he included a new rendition here (with the original Asher lyrics!)
Ultimately, has it been worth the wait? Undoubtedly. SMiLe is ultimately more eclectic and satisfying than PET SOUNDS, or even SGT PEPPER for that matter. While you're listening to SMiLe, it's like you're listening to an entirely different, more ruthlessly inventive musical era, and in many ways the album sounds like a time capsule. In many ways it's much more startling in 2004 than it would have been in 1967. Popular music was evolving incredibly fast in those days. Now, in a market dominated by bland, faceless pop, SMiLe is all the more revelatory in its pure genius, illustrating what artists can accomplish when they don't bend to commercial woes.
There was much concern over Wilson's voice. Many people feared his voice just couldn't handle the material anymore. You can certainly tell Wilson's voice has changed from his angelic highs, but that makes SMiLe all the more endearing. Even though Wilson's 62, and his voice has become rather earth-bound, the 2004 SMiLe is an amazing tribute to the restless, creative spirit of man. His determination shines through in his voice. Even though age has gotten to Brian Wilson, he still sounds fantastic. His voice always reminds us that, despite all his personal demons, Brian Wilson made the music of a lifetime.
And that's all we can ask, and much more than we deserve, of anyone.
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