Monday, November 21, 2011

Rant #622: Something to "SMiLE" About

I alluded to this release a couple of Rants back, but now, it's time to review this long-awaited LP.

The "SMiLE" set by the Beach Boys has arrived in stores, and with the holidays right around the corner, it might be time to invest some of your hard-earned cash into buying this release.

It comes in three version, as far as I know: the all inclusive boxed set, which not only comes with several CDs worth of songs, sound-bytes, dialogue and other features, but it also comes complete with the album on vinyl and a couple of vinyl singles.

Then you have the more economical boxed set, with two CDs and a button to wear on your shirt.

Finally, you have the vinyl LP version. This approximates the way it would have been released in early 1967 if the album would have ever seen the light of day.

I opted for the middle ground: the economical boxed set, which at 20 some odd dollars, fit my wallet a little better than the all-inclusive boxed set, which would have run me about $150. imagine the vinyl LPs would have cost me in the $35-$40 range, so what I did was save a little bread for myself.

Anyway, onto the recording.

As you probably know, "SMiLE"--and that is how it was supposed to look--was an album that Brian Wilson was creating for his Beach Boys. So many things got in the way--illness, in-group fighting, drugs, and probably more drugs--that this album never was finished in its entirety, and although it was to be released in January 1967, only bits and pieces of the LP ever were officially released, although bootlegs abound.

Right off, I am going to tell you that this album is not "Pet Sounds." That LP is probably Wilson and the Beach Boys' finest work, and this is not that, it doesn't even come close, if you want my opinion.

"SMiLE" isn't really an album, per se, or an album as we came to know what albums were during the mid to late 1960s.

Sure, there is music on it, but it more of a sound collage than anything else.

The music is often intercepted by noises, other sounds, and really, I think what Wilson was getting at was that he wanted to make this sort of the aural equivalent to being at a carnival, with all the sounds, rides, barkers, and everybody else going at it at once, trying to get your attention.

It's the same thing here. There is so much going on, so much for your ear to nibble on, if you will.

But does it all work?

That is the big question, and my answer is, that I really don't know.

Even after listening to this thing, I just don't know if Wilson's vision would have translated to the acclaim that he evidently so wanted.

He wanted it so much that it might have led to his eventual nervous breakdown.

The centerpiece of "SMiLE" was not, in my opinion, "Good Vibrations," which was being worked on at the same time as the rest of the LP. The centerpiece, was "Heroes and Villains," a weaker song than "Good Vibrations" but still a powerful one.

The song, like "Good Vibrations," did eventually get released, and became a hit single. But as the centerpiece of the LP, all of the bits and pieces given to us here demonstrate how Wilson worked and worked and worked on this song to make it perfect--just like he did with "Good Vibrations."

If I learned anything from this release, it is that "Heroes and Villains" was held in the same esteem by Wilson as was "Good Vibrations," and that miscalculation may have led to the LP's downfall and non-release until now.

Wilson was a perfectionist, a perfectionist stressed out on being perfect, abetted by lots of drugs.

His attempt to get this album right--and to get those two songs to a state of perfection--stuck a nail into this set.

What we have now, more than 40 years after the fact, is Wilson's vision, all right, but what his actual vision for the album was may never be known.

Wilson, himself, released his own version of the LP a few years ago, and it was one of the best albums of the year. But again, it was his vision more than 40 years after the fact.

What was his original vision? What did he want the album to say, what did he want the album to do?

This current album is the closest we probably will ever get to peer into his drug-addled mind at that time.

And for that, it is worth every penny.

If you are looking for a classic, a masterpiece, a master work from one of rock's greatest composers, I don't think you are going to get that here.

I wonder if Wilson, himself, thought that the project was doomed to failure, and that made him work even harder--and ingest more drugs into himself--to try to make it better than it really was.

I don't know about any of that, but I can tell you that SMiLE is worth your while.

I don't know if, when you finish listening to this, you will want to listen to it again and again.

That is my watermark for a classic. Any album that you want to hear again and again is a classic.

I don't think "SMiLE" is that, or even would have been that in 1967.

But it foreshadowed the coming album boom, when acts led by the Beatles took the LP format and made it into more than simply a collection of singles and other songs.

"SMiLE" might put a smile on your face, but is it a classic, a masterpiece.

No. Its legend precedes it, but don't be fooled.

"SMiLE" is a fine album, I think it is at least. But it is no classic, no masterpiece.

I don't think that Wilson regressed with this LP, I just think he got in over his head with a vision that he probably wasn't going to reach, even if he were completely sober.

Don't listen to snooty rock critics. They have no idea what they are talking about.

Go back to "Pet Sounds" and compare.

But get "SMiLE" anyway. You won't be sorry that you did.

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