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Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)

December 16, 2013

[Album 269/1001]220px-SmileBW04

In the early 2000s, there was plenty of reason for optimism in the music world.  The year 2004 in particular provided a bountiful crop for music, regardless of the genre.

Rock with a dance beat? Good debut records by Franz Ferdinand & The Killers.

Hip Hop? Try Cee-Lo Green or Kanye West.

Scrappy, toe-tapping fun? The Libertines or Kings of Leon ought to do the trick.

Return to form for two of the Masters?  Critically acclaimed records by Morrissey and Brian Wilson.

2004 also represented the approximate peak of my obsession with Pet Sounds.  As I’m saving my favourites until the end of this project, I probably won’t review that one until about album #996.

Clearly, I was (and I still am) pleased Smile finally saw the light of day.

Pet Sounds it is not, though the bookends of the record are almost as mesmerizing.  Considering the record opens with Our Prayer/Gee into Heroes and Villains and closes with the evergreen Good Vibrations, Pet Sounds comparisons, in those cases at least, aren’t completely off the mark.  Incidentally, this album does contain animal noises, notably during In the Barnyard!

The great ‘lost’ album is an intriguing listen.  Shelved for decades, finally brought to life in the 21st Century, it’s still ahead of its time.

Divided into three movements, at times cartoon-ish, at times brilliant, Smile is full of spectacular arrangements.

The studio recording is fine but for the optimal experience, I’d strongly recommend watching the live performance.

It’s essentially note-for-note, the drums are more prominent in the mix, and it’s fascinating to see the musicians multi-task on stage.


From → 2000s

  1. I’m a late convert to the cult-of-Wilson…so take this with a grain of salt…but I think this album ain’t that great. I bought it. I listened to it. I tried. Kinda sounded like my grandpa “doing” the Beach Boys.

    That said, the SMILE SESSIONS boxset that came out in 2011 is totally worth diving into.

    • I can appreciate that – when I heard “The Beach Boys” were going back on tour, I remember thinking it was unusual for 70-year olds to be considered boys!

      I definitely felt the same way when I saw him live back in 2005 – Wilson looked a bit lost on stage. I’m not a big fan of their one-dimensional surf tunes to begin with and it was even stranger hearing them delivered by a senior citizen.

      Why I felt this one worked – no mention of cars/girls, it was the arrangements & overall presentation that mattered.
      Wilson’s voice is frail at times (can certainly tell it’s not an old, previously unreleased recording).
      I may be adding the Smile Sessions to the Christmas wishlist, I didn’t know it existed!

      • If you have Spotify (if you don’t it’s free!) you can check out the Smile Sessions. Actually, listening to the cuts, it’s kinda amazing the album never came out. There are numerous takes and 90% of the material is amazing.

        I wanted to see the Beach Boys on their latest tour, but I didn’t get the chance. What you describe is similar to when I saw Chuck Berry–they’re so frail you almost feel bad for them. I admire those guys for keeping going, but I think it’s time to retire the “Boys.” That said, while I didn’t enjoy SMILE (2004) I actually dug THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO from 2012.

        That said, nothing will ever beat PET SOUNDS.

      • Certainly no argument here about Pet Sounds – it’s usually in my Top 5 albums!

      • It took me some time (read: I had to grow up) before I “got” that record…but man, it’s one of my favorites.

      • I can see how early Beach Boys fans (and other members of the Beach Boys) didn’t get it either – it’s a universe away from the cars n’ girls.
        When the Christmas specials are on this time of year I always enjoy ‘God Only Knows’ being a key part of the film Love Actually.

  2. Interesting that this album made this list. Had the original Smile ever been released I know it would be on many lists worldwide. I’m not sure about the re-creation. My impressions were that it was an enjoyable listen but I had no desire to listen again really.

    • Admittedly, I listened to it quite a bit in 2004/2005 but it’s been sitting on the shelf now for the better part of a decade.
      I think the major limitation here is the lack of individually strong ‘songs’ – it all flows nicely, but apart from the opening & closing, none of the individual tracks are particularly memorable.
      I think it’s the vision I like the most – it’s out there, nobody else was/is doing anything like it, and I quite enjoy the idea of an album being a symphony.
      So I’d agree, it’s a record that doesn’t beg relistening, but becomes more impressive when you see (in the live video) how the parts are all built up.

      • I’m fascinated by stuff like that — I think you and I discussed the Classic Album series and how much I enjoy those.

        I think something like Smile really deserves accolades for what it was intended to be by design. It hasn’t clicked with me, but then again neither have many other classics.

      • And I’m with you there on both – both the excellence of classic albums the series and how some albums deemed ‘classic’ haven’t seemed so magical to me either!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tom’s Top 5′s: Albums of 2004 | Revolutions Per Minute
  2. Top 5 “W” Artists | 1001albumsin10years
  3. Top 5 ‘Black’ Albums | 1001albumsin10years
  4. Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue (1977) | 1001albumsin10years

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