The Smile Sessions CD
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Never Before Released Original 1966-67 Album Sessions
Between the summer of 1966 and early 1967, The Beach Boys recorded a bounty of songs and drafts for an album, SMiLE, that was intended to follow the band's 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds.
The SMiLE Sessions presents the recording sessions for the album, which achieved legendary, mythical status for music fans around the world.
Finally it's time to see what triumphs, reality or myth, the destination or the journey. We've waited almost 45 years for this, the near-as-dammit definitive version of one of the great lost classics. So was it worth the heartache, the horse-trading for bootlegs, even the filler surrounding the odd SMiLE relic on flaky later albums like Smiley Smile or 20/20? No doubt about it. The world has a decent sense of how this is going to turn out from those bootlegs and – more pertinently – the 2004 version fashioned by a croaky Brian Wilson, lyricist and co-conspirator Van Dyke Parks and Beach Boys understudies the Wondermints. But there's surely nothing like the real thing. Or the real-ish thing.
It all started with SMiLE's closing statement Good Vibrations, a 1966 number one and mini-masterpiece that reputedly took Wilson a year to complete as he experimented with ‘modular’ recording. Despite the sheer ball-ache, the modular method – the recording of individual elements that could be grafted together at a later date – was to inform the creation of this entire album, a move that put session musicians through ridiculous paces and tried the patience of Capitol Records and the other Beach Boys to such a degree that something had to give. That something was the actual release of the record.
That's one take, anyway. Memories are fuzzy, but the music now it's here is pure and gorgeous, the familiar mesh of brotherly voices exquisite as ever. Its glittering peaks are singles Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains, along with Surf's Up (a different recording from the finale of its 1971 album), harmonic jewel Our Prayer and Wonderful (far prettier and fuller than its cousin on Smiley Smile); but Wilson and Parks had envisaged SMiLE as a song cycle, a "cartoon consciousness" in Parks' own words, that would be naturally symbiotic, the songs hanging together as one. All the sadder, then, that it was shelved and then filleted for ensuing albums.
Some constituents aren't perfect, with Wilson's sillier side peeking out on beautifully constructed follies like Holidays, Barnyard and Vega-Tables of course, but even at their least remarkable these are stepping stones to the good stuff. And, my, if you want stepping stones (remarkable or otherwise) The SMiLE Sessions has got 'em: the standard release is one CD with the cherishable album and another with the best of the earlier/alternative takes, but if you're prepared to remortgage your sandbox you can get five CDs of this, serving up each fascinating (and occasionally less fascinating) ‘module’. Not to mention a 3D SMiLE shop and custom-built surfboard. That's one for completists, then. But your Beach Boys collection hasn't been complete until now, has it? --Matthew Horton
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Top Customer Reviews
1. As a package the 2 cd set is very good value (19 track Smile song suite plus 21 session tracks.)
2. The sound is fantastic. Very bassy. I am hearing things on some of these songs that I've never heard before.
3. The bonus tracks from recording sessions are well worth having. Again sound is superb. Solo Surf's Up a gem.
4. The boxed packaging is fine but there are no details of who is playing on the sessions, and it would have been nice to have had session dates for all the tracks. (Only given for cd2.)
5. If I had one word to describe the music it would be 'arcane'.
That's all Folks!
And that's the successful template that this current release is mostly based on, having used all the very best takes from the original 1966/7 recordings, which were about 90% complete at the time, before being abandoned by Brian. Some tracks arguably remain somewhat unfinished - mostly in the vocal and harmony department - but this music is so strong, emotionally fertile and deep that it hardly matters. And there were a few surprises of bits and takes that I'd never heard before!
The sound quality of this mono master is excellent - powerful, clear, detailed, and extremely "trippy" - clearly the way it was meant to be heard - and it's consistently good that way, with absolutely no audible tape hiss anywhere. So it's probably as good as it's ever going to sound. I would normally prefer stereo over mono presentation, especially since full stereo mixes do exist for 95% of these tracks. But I made a delightful exception in this case, as the music sounds more other-worldly and mysterious in this form. The packaging of the 2-disc version is excellent, in a good quality box with good inner sleeves, and a 30-page booklet with a lengthy blessing from Brian himself (who'd have ever thought THAT possible!). And, at this price, you just won't get better for your money anywhere!Read more ›
The packaging on the 2cd box is very nice and the 2nd cd is worth having for the stripped-bare versions of Surf's Up alone.
As for the songs themselves well you have to listen from start to finish as most of the tracks aren't designed to be listened to in isolation, Side Two of Abbey Road by The Beatles is a reasonable comparison though many of these songs don't have verses unlike that long medley.
The highlights and possible exceptions to this would be Heroes And Villains, Good Vibrations, and the wonderful Surf's Up which has to be one of the finest songs of this or any era (even if the lyrics don't make any sense!).
Jimi Hendrix referred to the Beach Boys around this period as sounding like "a psychedelic barber's shop quartet" as if that was a bad thing, it's actually a very good description of the album - you'll either like it or hate it depending on whether you fancy hearing such a thing.
I agree with what Brian says that this really is ahead of its time and was way too alternate even for back then. This type of creativity could only be fully appreciated by today's culture of anything goes (postmodernism). I'm not even going to make comparisons with Pet Sounds as that is meaningless when dealing with a creative exposition of this type, suffice to say that it is not easy listening BUT essential listening. It's the type of art work that grows on you each time of listening. It is definitely as important a musical statement as Pepper and will no doubt go down in the music history books as an extraordinary musical offering from a genius who, although whilst writing the music went completely mad and lost interest in life, eventually came back to tell us all of the dark journey. Was it a price worth paying? I would say definitely!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fitting reminder of the brilliance of Brian Wilson. Briiliant!Published 1 month ago by C. Harrison
Although I think the never-released Beach Boy's LP "Smile" is a victim of gross over-importance by historical revisionists (there's an awful lot of meandering faff on here... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mark Barry
More of a ragbag than I had expected, and largely of interest in the state of mind of Brian Wilson. Hugely overrated in general.Published 4 months ago by John C
After many years of reading about the background to this unfinished album, it was nice to finally hear what all the fuss was about, and i can honestly say it is just as good as i... Read morePublished 14 months ago by david brown
Both albums based on original Beach Boys' "Smile", this one and the Brian Wilson's one, caused lot of medial noise. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Jaroslaw Kilias
I just wish that Brian Wilson could release a fully remastered, stereo version of the Beach Boys original Smile. Just like he did with Pet Sounds.Published 17 months ago by Jonathan Butler