Today on Blogcritics
Home » Music » Music Review: The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions (2CD Deluxe Edition)

Music Review: The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions (2CD Deluxe Edition)

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+1Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

If there was ever a walking, talking argument for there being a fine line between genius and insanity, then Beach Boys creative mastermind Brian Wilson certainly fits that description. For Wilson, SMiLE — the great, lost Beach Boys 1967 masterpiece that has long since attained mythical status — is by all accounts the place where the madness and the muse collided once and for all.

At the time of its creation, Brian Wilson was trying to top Pet Sounds — an acknowledged pop masterpiece itself — by committing the heavenly sounds he heard in his head to vinyl, using the limited recording technology of the day. At the time, Wilson called SMiLE his “teenage symphony to God.”

In addition to raising the bar on his own work though, Wilson was engaged in a battle of creative one-upsmanship with the Beatles, who had just come off of Rubber Soul and Revolver (Sgt. Pepper was still months away).

Ultimately, SMiLE collapsed under the weight of Wilson’s perfectionist approach, and the rest of the Beach Boys more commercial desire to just continue making the hits.

The aftermath of this found the Beach Boys riding out the seventies and beyond by filling stadiums as an oldies act, while Wilson spent many of the same years in and out of both his sandbox and psychiatric care.

Meanwhile, the legend of the unreleased SMiLE has only grown. Bits and pieces of this greatest of lost albums have surfaced over the years, beginning with the inferior Smiley Smile album the Beach Boys themselves eventually released instead, to numerous bootleg recordings.

In 2004, Wilson revisited the project himself, piecing it back together from memory with the help of a great band of young bucks on Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. Wilson even overcame a decades long case of stage fright, by taking it out on the road for a critically acclaimed tour.

But there has never been a serious attempt to revive the original, unreleased Beach Boys SMiLE album until now. Whether or not The SMiLE Sessions will go down as the definitive, or even the final word on SMiLE remains to be seen. But for now, it should more than satisfy long suffering fans who have waited decades for this album.

If nothing else, this ambitious attempt to resuscitate one of rock’s greatest lost masterpieces is noteworthy for the fact that it was made with the blessing and participation of both Brian Wilson and the surviving Beach Boys alone. Symphony to God or otherwise, the idea of these two often warring parties meeting anywhere but a courtroom has to be seen as nothing short of an act of the Almighty Himself.

On the two disc deluxe version (there is, naturally, also a larger boxed set), you get the album in its intended sequence, in pieces put together from the original sessions. Yet, while the actual SMiLE album was never officially completed, there is nothing unfinished sounding about what you get here.

The multiple layers of strings and voices that Wilson heard in his head, methodically pieced together as they were, sound as complete here as on the 2004 solo version recorded using modern technology. But if anything, the mix here is a lot warmer sounding. This is especially evident on songs like “Do You Like Worms (Plymouth Rock)” and of course “Good Vibrations.” As good as the young cats in Wilson’s 2004 band sounded, there is simply no substitute for the multi-tracked vocals of the original Beach Boys in all their sixties prime.

But mostly, finally hearing the multiple layered vision Brian Wilson must have originally imagined come to life is just astounding. The genius of songs like “Cabin Essence” and “Surfs Up” is something he has rarely achieved since (although he came close on the self-titled Brian Wilson solo album with both “Love And Mercy” and the “Rio Grande” suite).

The combination of music this intricately put together, while sounding so fresh and innocent is simply mind-boggling. The fact that it was done using the limited technology of sixties recording is equally remarkable. Brian Wilson really was a mad genius.

The second disc here breaks this technique down even further, taking the listener into the actual recording process with multiple takes that reveal how each song was put together in short fragments. There are at least five tracks devoted to bits and pieces from “Heroes And Villains” alone. This is fascinating, if admittedly geeky stuff that may not resonate with the average listener (and there is even more of it on the box). But you also get humorous insights into the band, as they joke about things like the “acid kicking in” in between takes.

They were joking, weren’t they?

But the main event here is the SMiLE album itself, which sounds every bit as good here as fans who have salivated for its release all these decades could have hoped for. The 2CD version also features a poster of the original album art, a booklet with liner notes from Wilson himself, and even a SMiLE button.

While this still may not be the final word on Brian Wilson’s “teenage symphony to God,” The SMiLE Sessions meets and exceeds decades of legend and expectation. The Beach Boys lost masterpiece has been realized at long last.

Powered by

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Nice review, Glen. After a lot of hemming and hawing I opted for the two-CD set, but I have a feeling I’ll soon enough spring for the larger box set. Call me irresponsible, and too much of a fan not to splurge.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The box is strictly for the geek I think Gordon. I enjoyed the insight you get on the sessions on disc two of the “deluxe” version. But after one listen, I got all I needed. The main event of the actual album is what I’ll be coming back to again and again.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    I’ll be getting the two-disc set myself, you’ve convinced me Glen. Good review.

  • Barry Gibbson

    Big error: The Beatles album that Brian heard and came out after Pet Sounds and made impression, was not Rubber Soul from 1965…. but the much later “Revolver”. Ough!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Barry,

    I have read more than one place that Rubber Soul made the bigger impression with Brian, but you are essentially correct in terms of chronological order. Correction noted and made. Thank you for pointing it out.

    -Glen

  • Zingzing

    Brian said rubber soul was his inspiration for making cohesive albums… From there, it was just shots back and forth.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    That’s what I thought too Zing.

    -Glen

  • http://sandiegohomegrown.com Gary ng

    Great piece, Glen. Though I do think that the 5 disc set is essential for any serious Beach Boy / BW fan, which really is just about anyone who is buying the album today. To me, the SMiLE “experience” is nearly as much as the sessions as it is the newly assembled version. Keep in mind that no one, not even Brian, probably really knew what the final album would be. In a way, it would have been even more satisfying (or puzzling) to hear multiple versions of the SMiLE album made up of different takes and sequences. But maybe that’s slated for the 2045 super deluxe edition :-)

    On a side note, I wonder if anyone today buying the album is disappointed that it doesn’t follow the formula? My older sister is the one who got me into the BB back in 1965 when we were kids and I still remember her telling me not to buy Pet Sounds (I was in 3rd grade) because it was “weird”. LOL

  • Rock Singer

    Nice review ….but…You know you can listen to the Album with 2 different ears, meaning take yourself back to the stoner 60’s and everything is just fine or you can listen with todays ears and I got to tell you when you hear that “Fire” section I’m thinking WTF, not very musical. If I was producing these sessions and paying for’em I’d pull the plug in a hot minute. I can’t believe that Brian put the Wrecking Crew through that garbage. If you listen closely I think you’d have to agree with Mike Love on this one.

    Sorry but I’m a big BB fan & have great respect for Brian for pulling himself out of his personal hell.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Actually, I’m more inclined to agree with #8.

    -Glen

  • Corez

    I think that’s what Brian wanted. Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow was supposed to give you ‘bad vibrations’, it was supposed to be a chaotic sounding track just like when something is burning everything falls apart and everything is spontaneous. Then Love To Say Dada comes in and you feel as if everything’s going to be alright again.

  • CHromex

    According to David Leaf, Brian heard “Rubber Soul” and was inspired to make “Pet Sounds” with the concept that you didn’t have to have a lot of “filler” on albums being new then and “Rubber SouL learning the way in that regard” There was also an anecdote from David Anderele about Brian first hearing “Strawberry Fields’ on the radio and being so overwhelmed that he had to stop driving the car. I do not think they were joking about the acid- that was “prayer” and I am sure Brian wanted an otherworldly feel there

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Same thing I had read pretty much Chromex, so thanks for clearing that up. I didn’t think they were joking about the acid (or the hash) but couldn’t resist insertying one of my own there…LOL.

    Thanks for the coments.

    -G