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One of the most mythic albums in rock-the one that pushed Wilson over the edge and sat unfinished in the vault for decades-returned in 2004 when Brian resurrected it , re-recorded it and earned his most rapturous raves in decades. The CD contains Heroes and Villains; Surf's Up; Mrs. O'Leary's Cow; Roll Plymouth Rock , and the rest of the captivating creations of Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. To watch a revelatory documentary about the history and ultimate triumph of SMiLE and see its complete performance in LA (plus an ocean of bonus features), go for the DVD!
The Greatest Album That Never Was finally is. The Beach Boys' uncompleted 1967 album Smile has remained the elusive touchstone of Brian Wilson's brilliant, star-crossed career for decades. Artistic Holy Grail and troubling professional Waterloo for Wilson, a tantalizing prism of unfulfilled promise to his loyal cadre of fans, its story has become pop music's Rashomon. Finally completed via spring 2004 recordings with his stellar, longtime touring band (none of the original '60s sessions were used, though they've been recreated here with often stunning authenticity), it's arguably as alien to contemporary pop as it might have seemed in its intended '67 context--even to ears freshly primed by the glories of Pet Sounds.
Collaborator Van Dyke Parks's impressionistic, often mischievous lyrics conjure a collage of arcane 19th-century Americana that's equal parts artful ellipse and aloof nostalgia. But wed to Wilson's innovative composition and recording techniques (echoing beat author William Burroughs's fabled cut 'n' paste methodology and exemplified by the modular "Good Vibrations"), the resulting semisuite confections challenge the boundaries of both song and album form, but with an insouciant charm that's as different from Pet Sounds as that landmark was from "I Get Around." Turns out those hypothetical comparisons to Sgt. Pepper's weren't so far off the mark. --Jerry McCulley
Smiling with Brian
Amazon.com Music Editor Peter Hilgendorf called Brian Wilson to congratulate him on the release of Smile, and to talk about the recording and some of the history behind this highly anticipated release. Listen now.
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The tortured history of "Smile" became rock folklore long ago. Beach Boys founder Wilson, having scored with his groundbreaking album "Pet Sounds" in 1966, proceeded to work on what he termed "a teenage symphony to God." But drug usage, a nervous breakdown, and derision from his fellow band members caused him to shelve "Smile," save for occasional songs that leaked out (including the Boys' first #1 hit, "Good Vibrations").
Thanks to encouragement from Brian's second wife Melinda, Wilson scooped up all remaining fragments of "Smile," brought back his "Smile" lyricist Van Dyke Parks, and reworked the album from memory. The result is like the segment of the Beatles cartoon "Yellow Submarine" where the Fabs leave blooming flowers in their wake. "Smile" is even more of a "movie for the ear" than was the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" (which served as "Smile's" original inspiration).
Granted, not every listener will relate to a pop album with song titles such as "Cabin Essence" and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." But "Smile" is the kind of masterwork for which the phrase "more than the sum of its parts" was intended.
"Smile" is like the more upbeat version of the introspective "Pet Sounds." Its musical ideas and shimmering harmonies seem to erase everything negative from your mind. There's evidence enough of Wilson's brilliance in the soaring melodies of "Child is Father of the Man," "Our Prayer," and yes, even in the sound-effects treasure trove of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow--not to mention previous "Smile" outtakes such as "Heroes and Villains."
The only disappointment is the album's coda. "A Day in the Life" came as a shattering finale to "Sgt. Pepper," but we already know the triumph of this album's closing, "Good Vibrations." That said, it's still a magnificent closing.
And Wilson's aged but still poignant vocals are as wistful a reminder of '60s-era pop-music possibilities as The Beatles' recent "reunion" song "Free As a Bird." Like that much-overlooked single, "Smile" reminds us that the optimism of the '60s still offers hope to a weary world. If you've tired of modern music's thumping negativity, it's time to "Smile."