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The SMiLE Sessions by The Beach Boys
2 reviews. Write a review for us »
9/10 Clinton 28 October 2011

The greatest album never made? A triumph of mythmaking over achievement? 'Smile' is many things but one thing it isn't and never will be is a coherent album. For one thing Wilson's cut and paste methods were waaaay ahead of the technology available to him at the time and it's just impossible to segue such a thing into a sensible order. Secondly, they never finished it so the production values could never be anything near what was surely intended. Tracks drop out in unexpected places or repeat ad nauseum to the point you can easily imagine Wilson rocking back and forth at his piano repeating yet another variation on the 'Heroes and Villains' theme. The vocals (although stunning as you might expect) are scattershot and wilful. With the various leaks over the years and the 'Brian Wilson presents Smile' Frankenstein-like job it seems we have been drip fed this stuff for so long that the initial impression of hearing it put together as (presumably) originally intended is weirdly one of slight disappointment. But imagine hearing this stuff in 1967; it would have either changed the course of music forever or destroyed the Beach Boys career immediately (a job they did manage to complete pretty successfully over the following years). The bad guy in the Beach Boys story has always been Mike Love and justifiably but listening to 'Smile' you can certainly see his point. Previously the conservative Love had reined in Wilson's more preposterous ideas so that between them they married experimentation with a commercial nous. Wilson here, aided and abetted by the similarly experimental Van Dyke Parks, pushed ever closer to abstraction and on occasion downright silliness which threatened to burst the reputation the band had built for themselves. Yet throughout there are several musical moments so breathtaking that you simply lose all sense of being. The abstract harmonies on 'Love to Say Dada', the insane musique concrete of 'Heroes and Villains', the rural twang of 'Cabinessence', yet at the very end 'Good Vibrations' comes as something of a relief, with its (relatively!) straight melody and superb production.  Still, this is an album you must own, the packaging is just spot on superb (though a bio type thing would be nice) and the clever mastering people have made it sound better than anyone has any right to expect.

8/10 Andy L 7th September 2013

"Smile" was a hell of a record to get obsessed with as a teenager, the main problem being that you couldn't buy it. Instead you had to fork out for dodgy bootlegs, which hid the breathtaking promise of the music behind the sound of a wind tunnel. It's almost a disappointment to actually have a real record in my hands, as if my hours of searching through market stalls were all for nothing (I'm still clinging to the idea that they weren't...). But the music always was worth seeking out.
That music, of course, remains glorious. Brian Wilson's bizarre childhood fixation meets his drug-induced hyper-creativity with a vengence, ripping out section after section of psychedelic whimsy, kiddy R'n'B and grandiose surf-pop, apparently with the intention of stringing them together into songs at some point. Unfortunately, this was never achieved, so editor Mark Linnett has had to pull the whole together, resulting in some cracking unreleased versions. 'Vege-Tables" bounces along like a child with ADHD, replete with horse noises and chomped carrots whilst, going from the sublimely ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime, 'Child is Father of the Man' opens with a stunningly beautiful group harmony and just gets better from there, easing between beatific surf guitar and typically intricate vocals. Of course 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Good Vibrations' still kick ass but it's the lesser known tunes, like the edgy neo-doo-wop of 'Wind Chimes', that retain the power to really astonish. It's fair to say that some of the editing is a bit shabby and, having heard complete versions on Brian Wilson's hit and miss rerecording of the album, other tracks feel somehow more unfinished than I used to imagine them. However, the important thing is that this record truly captures the magic of '67, when music went stratospheric and anything might of happened. Close your eyes and you might just be able to picture Brian in his element behind the mixing desk, forcing the Boy's into just one more take.


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