Hurple Hoopla

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Brian Wilson Presents Smile

In 1967, the Beach Boys were in the studio working on what was going to be their masterpiece, the album Smile. However, during the course of the recording sessions, resident Beach Boys svengali Brian Wilson suffered a series of nervous breakdowns that left him unable to finish the work. Over the course of the rest of their career, a few of the Smile songs were re-recorded or finished and slipped out on various albums, but the entire piece was abandoned and forgotten by the band.

Until 2004.

That year, Brian Wilson's newest backing band, The Wondermints, had been touring and performing the Beach Boy's album Pet Sounds in its entirety each night. All the while, the band's musical director was pushing Wilson to do more and more Smile material. At the end of the tour, Wilson's confidence (in himself and in the band) was up. He did more than work up the Smile songs with his current band, he actually finalized the concept behind the album and took the band in the studio to (finally) record the album in it's entirety.

True, most of the songs have been heard before, as Beach Boys songs (Our Prayer, Heroes & Villains, Cabin Essence, Wonderful, Surf's Up, Vega-Tables, and Good Vibrations most notably) but the new recordings are as spot on close to the originals as is possible. Using the original Beach Boy's master tapes as a guide, each part was painstakingly re-recorded in the same studio that hosted the original sessions in 1967. In fact, some of the new recordings are so perfect that upon first listen I was convinced that Wilson just had his new band lay simply add overdubs to the old tapes to finish the songs. (I still swear I can hear Carl Wilson's distinctive harmonies on several tracks.)

It could have been a disaster, instead it's a work of genius.

There are a few moments where the 40-year-old idealism shines through as quaint, but those moments are surprisingly few and far between. There is also a saxophone solo on one track that never would have sounded so "adult contemporary" had it been recorded by Wilson in 1967.

Those moments aside, this collection of songs is still, even in its "not the Beach Boys" watered down form and even by 2004 standards, a complete artistic triumph and work of unparalleled musical genius. Had these songs been finished and the album been released in 1967, I have no qualms against stating that it would be The Beach Boys Smile album, and not The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, by which we would now define as the soundtrack to the hippie movement of the late 60's.

Easily, it's the best album of 2004. It should have been the best album of the 60's.

In fact, both me and the Fonz give this one two big thumbs up!


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