Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The Smile Sessions
To the point, The Beach Boys' "Smile Sessions" is worth your time and money. The Beach Boys' "Smile Sessions" might just be the best release of the year.
I'm sure I've mentioned this at some point over the last three years but I'll say it again. As much as I love "Pet Sounds," it is not my favorite Beach Boys' album. That would be "Today." And as much as I love Brian Wilson, I've never loved "Smile." Not in its legendary "lost album" days. Not the stellar sounding reconstructions. And especially not Brian's redo from 2004. Listening to the various versions of "Smile" over the last 30 or so years, I've learned to appreciate Brian Wilson's genius and vision for the project, but I never found it difficult to understand the rest of the band's trepidations or why Brian went nuts. I like parts of "Smile," but I like parts or all of so many other Beach Boys' records more.
With this new collection, anything I've ever felt has been tossed away for good. The sound and detail, the beauty of the melodies, the complexity of the vocals and arrangements, and most of all, Brian Wilson's determination and direction, all sprawled out over 5CDs, make "The Smile Sessions" a listening experience like no other.
A casual fan or listener may find it a bit daunting to see a full 78 minute CD filled with nothing but "Heroes & Villains" takes and snippets and movements. If you were thinking of putting this on your iPod and getting on the treadmill, leave now. But, if you have even a remote interest in Brian Wilson, his brothers Carl & Dennis, and the rest of the men, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, Van Dyke Parks, and the brilliant studio musicians behind this storied release, dive right in without fear.
CD 1 is the album proper, gloriously sequenced and remastered. But for me, it wasn't until discs 2 and 3, when, as one reader commented yesterday, I "eavesdropped" on Brian and the gang in session, I began to fully appreciate "Smile" as a whole. The various themes of "Heroes & Villains," the mad scientist conducting, or "conduction," as Brian puts it a number of times, as he whips all involved into the place where they can finally hear what he hears, is all present in an audio documentary that is never, not once, anything but mindblowing.
Coming off a post where I groaned about big boxes, major label greed, and the relentless repackaging of records we've all bought so many times before, I have to say, if you can find the money, this is the best of its kind. The hardcover book with detailed info on each track and its players is worth half the admission alone.