Brian Wilson - Smile
In 1966 Brian Wilson almost single handedly created Pet Sounds , an ambitious and groundbreaking piece of work a long way from the Beach Boys successful surf songs. His reward was a response from his bandmate and general bete noir Mike Love that he shouldn't “f*** with the formula”.
The public and the critics also gave it the thumbs down but nearly forty years on it's widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Wilson saw his main competition as the Beatles and considered Pet Sounds to be an attempt to top their Revolver . Next he embarked on an even more ambitious project to be called Smile . Lack of confidence after the failure of Pet Sounds meant it was abandoned as a complete suite but some of the key tracks turned up on Smiley Smile , a watered down version of his original vision, most notably the sublime Good Vibrations and the song which was to be the other cornerstone of Smile, Heroes And Villains . Other Smile tracks surfaced over the next five or six years on subsequent albums, but Smile as a concept became one of the great lost albums.
Fast forward to 2004 and following last years weak Getting' In Over My Head, which was over laden with celebrity appearances and lacking in inspiration Wilson has attempted to recreate his original vision as the complete work as it was initially envisaged, this time with the assistance of his touring band The Wondermints, in the same studio as before with pretty much the same equipment as before.
In '67 an atmosphere of (largely drug induced) madness pervaded. Wilson instructed all involved to don fireman's helmets for the recording of Mrs O'Leary's Cow and his paranoia let him to believe that it led to him causing a number of fires in L.A. at the time. Now with clear heads all round a marvellous facsimile of the original album, as it was intended, has been created. Brian of course handles all lead vocals and while his voice might not be what it once was any deficiencies are well masked.
Inevitably the remake of Good Vibrations can't match the original (though in a splendid move to snub Love, Wilson has replaced the line he wrote to gain him co-authorship with one of his own thus removing his name from the credits) and in general its fair to say this works as an ensemble piece rather than in isolating individual tracks.
Heroes And Villains contains an additional section which will be unfamiliar to those who remember the originally released version and segue's neatly onto Roll Plymouth Rock which is musically a variation on the same theme. Lots of light-hearted moments abound such as Vegetables which sadly doesn't feature Paul McCartney on carrot this time like the original!(its also worth noting that while Wilson recreates this sophisticated piece of art Macca was last heard of re-releasing his twenty year old frog chorus “classic” We All Stand Together).
Musically the general feel is a combination of the arcane and the contempory that recalls an era that never existed, really just Brian's world.
Even after all these years Van Dyke Parks lyrics remain elusive and impressionistic. Sample this”Hung velvet overtaking me / Dim chandelier awaken me / To a song dissolved in the dawn”. Not sure what it means either but it just sounds right.
Pet Sounds probably still retains the title as Wilson 's greatest achievement since it was released on completion and has make its impact with the world in the intervening years. Had Smile been completed and issued in '67 history might have been altered. This is a highly impressive attempt at recreating it though and in 2004 it stands as one of the best releases of the year and one that that few artists around today could even contemplate creating.
© Gordon Russell
Generally, the vinyl is considered to be far superior sonically to the cd release despite being a digital recording. It comes in a nice gatefold hard cardboard package with an embossed cover. Standard paper inner sleeves.