September 30, 2004

Brian Wilson "SMiLE"

I hate to say it, but this record is just crap.

I understand why Brian would want to revisit this part of his life, but going back to the Smile album is like trying to strike up a relationship with your ex-wife or ex-husband. Sure, there are some memories there, but it’s never going to be the same; you’re always going to think about the past and what could have been and you’re going to compare the two. Try as you might, you’ll never recapture that original magic. That’s the case with Smile; the original was an interesting idea, this is simply cleaning up the mess and making one last final artistic statement. After all, it looks good in the history books—musical genius/madman completes his magnum opus.

SMiLE just isn’t any good.

I’m being a pathetic purist here, but, really, there’s no way you can honestly say songs like “Wind Chimes,” “Good Vibrations,” “Surf’s Up,” “Cabin Essence” or “Wonderful” sound better than the original versions—all of which are considered Beach Boys classics. These new versions sound like a sixty year old man making a vain attempt to recapture his past by revisiting some of his greatest hits. Back then he was young and youthful and had a sweet, angelic singing voice. Now he’s old, tired and reflective; his voice hardened by his mental problems and drug abuse. It’s a cold, unhappy sound, actually of a man facing his mortality.

Maybe that’s the point, then?

Nah, I don’t think so. SMiLE just tries too hard to be the original, failing miserably. After all, his brothers are dead, the album has nothing to do with Mike Love or Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston, and it just sounds…wrong. If you’ve heard any of the original Smile sessions, listen to them instead; don’t waste your time with this tripe. Of course, it’s not surprising; except for one or two brief moments, the original Smile really wasn’t that great of a record anyway. Smile will always stand as the document of a brilliant young man losing his battle with his sanity, and should serve as a cautionary tale as to what drugs can do to a great mind. SMiLE is nothing more than a sad retread, made by a man whose best music was behind him thirty years ago.

SMiLE serves a disservice, both to Wilson and to the Beach Boys. Brian circa 1966 was a young man who could have easily taken over the world and the Beach Boys were at the top of their game, but their artistic statements were rejected, leaving Brian retreating into drugs. He could have been the next Burt Bacharach, but instead he chose to be the prototype for brain-burned dope casualties like Syd Barrett. Smile wouldn’t have bettered Pet Sounds, and it’s foolish to think that it could. Wilson’s already guilty of revisiting that album, so maybe SMiLE was inevitable.

When Capitol decides to release the Smile album—a boxed set is reportedly on the way soon—you’ll hear what Smile could be. You’ll also hear what SMiLE never could be, and you’ll not want to listen to this sad rehash again.

Maybe it's just time to fess up and say it: Smile (and SMiLE) was a mess of a record that sounds good in rock lore. SMiLE is easily this year's biggest disappointment.

--Joseph Kyle

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