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Smile is inarguably the most long awaited album in modern pop history. It's been more than 37 years since the title first appeared on a label release schedule, intended as the January, 1967 follow-up to the groundbreaking art-rock of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. But Smile never made its initial release date. Today, this album is not a mere reconstruction of past performances, but something entirely new, a serious summation of a project that has been gestating for nearly four decades.
While current list-orientated thinking places the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as one of the greatest modern popular recordings, debate still rages as to whether its mooted follow-up, Smile, would have outshone it. Only ever glimpsed in segments, was the album just a victim of a self-perpetuating myth, enhanced by legends of Brian and his missing marbles? Or was this one of the great lost opportunities? 40 years later, Brian's finally letting us know...
After creating Pet Sounds almost single-handedly while his siblings toured the globe, Brian - already in the throes of considerable mental anguish - embarked on a project even more gargantuan. With maverick lyricist Van Dyke Parks he proceeded to craft a 'teenage symphony to God'. Six months of intense work yielded most of the tracks, but by then Wilson was suffering from intense paranoia and exhibiting somewhat erratic behaviour. While recording the "Fire" sequence of "Mrs O'Leary's Cow" (getting the orchestra to wear fireman's helmets!) he believed that the vibes had started a major conflagration nearby. Now irreparably fragile and convinced he could never better the Beatles, he took to his bed for years, releasing tantalising snippets of his symphony on subsequent albums and leaving fans to try and assemble their own versions from advance press release track listings. Ironically Brian's own website claims that: "To this day, few have heard this lost masterpiece".
What's immediately apparent is that this project, once dubbed 'unwieldy', is perfectly suited to modern ears. The complexity of the segmented arrangements, the recurring themes ("Roll Plymouth Rock", "Heroes and Villains" etc.) and the lush orchestration and vocal harmonies actually improve under modern recording techniques, making what once seem muddled now a startlingly clear vision of American history - albeit a baroque and impressionistic one. Parks' lyrics defy categorisation and still convey a concise sense of the weight of 200 years. One instinctively knows what he means by 'Bicycle rider, just look what you've done to the church of the American Indian' or 'Colonnaded ruins domino' ("Surf's Up").
The music manages even more. Every second is packed with a thorough trawling of popular forms, from lounge jazz ("I Wanna Be Around") to barbershop ("Heroes and Villains"). A capella opener "Our Prayer" provides the missing link between the Four Freshmen and gospel music(!) and "Wonderful" manages to be both sensual and holy. Only during the final suite, containing oddities such as "Vega-tables" and the aforementioned "Mrs O'Leary's Cow", do you start to wonder if Brian's muse is unravelling before your ears.
Aficionados will argue for decades over the differences between these newly recorded versions and the sacred originals, yet the Wondermints, Brian's backing band on recent live outings, are so steeped in Beach Boys lore that you'd be hard pushed to tell them from the originals. Only Brian's older, worn vocals really give the game away. Anyone fearing that finally finishing Smile would diminish its status can now rest easy. This is a work of genius that transcends time. Is it time to rewrite those lists again? --Chris Jones
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Top Customer Reviews
Festival Hall will already know and no doubt agree with most of what I'm
about to say.
Smile, originally supposed to be released in 1967 is probably the most
of all unreleased albums. Composed and produced by Brian Wilson, the sole
genius behind all of the Beach Boys music before 1967, Smile was intended as
the big follow up to Pet Sounds which at the time didn't do so well in the
States but picked up a huge following here in the UK where the Beach Boys
over took the Beatles in popularity for a time.
The Beatles then struck back with Sgt Pepper, heralded as the greatest album
of all time, shifting the Beatles into even higher stardom and creating an
enormous amount of pressure for an already seriously troubled Brian.
Most people at the time heard that Smile's failure was a result of Brian's
breakdown after hearing Sgt Pepper. It's true he had a breakdown (more a
slow retreat from reality over the previous years as oppose to a sudden
cracking!) but it wasn't a result of hearing Sgt Pepper that caused it.
The Culmination of writing music for nearly 12 albums in 5 or 6 years, an
incredibly abusive father, and Brian's inability to cope with the pressure
of dealing with the record company and the other Beach Boys jealousy and
demands drove him into paranoid schizophrenia and an eventual total retreat
from the world for nearly 20 years.
Those few lucky enough to hear the original tapes of Smile have always
described it as an incredible musical journey exploring areas of music that
no other musician had come close to creating.Read more ›
Columnated Ruins Domino!
I'm sure that other reviewers can describe this album a lot better than i can, brian's voice is damaged, and you wonder what it would have sounded like released in '67, but his voice now just adds to the whole thing making it more special. Songs such as 'Our Prayer', 'Heroes and Villians', 'Cabin Essence' and 'Wonderful' are all beautiful, but then so are all the other tracks! My personal favourite parts are 'You are my sunshine' and the 'cantina' segment of Heroes and Villians'. Give this album a chance, and you'll see just how magical it is.
I've heard people say 'imagine what the world would be like if Germany won the 2nd world war' and how different things would be. I think to myself 'imagine how different music would be if 'Smile' had been released in '67'.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had the pleasure of watching the Brian Wilson story film on a recent flight from Egypt and decided to look into some of his work when I returned. Read morePublished 5 months ago by mr I R Tennant
This record defies categorisation. It is like a modern-day opera containing hundreds of different themes and genres. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Stephen Reid
The cd was cracked when it arrived by post and was delivered later than specified , the music itself is fine but other than that i felt a little let down.Published 10 months ago by ruth hubbard