SMiLE (Nonesuch) Brian Wilson
For the last thirty-seven years, SMiLE has been pop music's own Area 51--the subject of speculation and cover-ups, a project that warranted its own FBI file. The magnum opus, created by Brian Wilson and his lyrical partner Van Dyke Parks, and slated to be released as a Beach Boys LP in 1967, was never finished. Until now.
If you read music mags, you've surely seen many reviews spouting geysers of praise for this record, saying that had it been released, it would've made Sgt. Pepper look pale in comparison. If anything, those reviews err on the side of modesty.
SMiLE is a masterpiece. It's complex and challenging. It's brave and outrageous. And it's unlike anything you've ever heard before (or will likely hear again). I was musing on possible new genre handles to describe it--Surficana, Barbershop 'n' Roll, Pioneer Jazz, Mod-eville--but really, it's a record that's bigger and better than labels.
While bootleg versions of SMiLE have existed for years, they only hinted at the grandeur, sounding scattered and disparate. What was missing was the proper song sequence. Imagine trying to read Great Expectations with the pages all out of order.
With the help of his amazing band (kudos to Brian's musical secretary, the wickedly talented Darian Sahanaja), the puzzle pieces have been reassembled. Presented in three movements, the completed album unfolds as a thrilling pop-meets-classical experiment, with recurring themes and variations, and some of the best harmony singing you've ever heard. Melodies from the centerpiece songs, "Heroes And Villains," "Surf's Up" and "Cabinessence," weave themselves into bass lines and counterpoints throughout, giving the record an elegant shape. And while there are '60s elements present in the instrumentation--harpsichord, theremin, mellotron--the music sounds timeless and fresh.
Beyond the triumph of rescuing his lost album, this is a huge personal victory for Brian Wilson. It long represented his downfall--an undoing by demons and drugs. By returning to his pivotal moment, he's rewritten his own history. And you can hear it in the youthful surge in his voice. This is Brian Wilson's finest moment. Finally, SMiLE is really a reason for him to smile. Bill DeMain
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