Who would’ve thought that one of 2011’s best albums would come from none other than The Beach Boys? While the album was recorded way back in the ’60s, it is only now that the album is being properly released. The album was originally intended to be a follow-up to the now legendary Pet Sounds. It has been widely recognized as the most famous unreleased album of all time. It is part legend, part psychedelic opus magnum, and complete perfection. This album delves into The Beach Boys’ penchant for psychedelia and mind-blowing vocal harmonies with songs including the seminal “Good Vibrations.” While this is the album’s most well known single, there is no lack of absolutely stunning compositions. One of the more notable of these is Brian Wilson’s “Surf’s Up” (Elvis Costello called an unreleased demo of this track akin to listening to an original recording of Mozart playing).
This album, with all honesty, is pretty much perfect in every definition of the word. It expands on the musical journeys embarked on Pet Sounds while remaining to sound surprisingly fresh with almost 50 years having passed. The production quality is seamless and the songwriting is crisp. Needless to say, the song is filled with Brian Wilson’s trademarked jittery-ness and borderline schizophrenic melodies.
Wilson initiated the process in releasing this album in its original form when in 2004 he released his own re-recorded version of the album with the same title. These versions are roughly identical in structure and melody with the key distinction being the inclusion of the most recent version having all of The Boys’ voices heard. Additionally, this version of the Smile Sessions contains a lot of interesting B-sides and demos of the uproarious “Heroes and Villains.”
However, this album has signature Wilson written all over it. The cancelled release of this album combined with copious drug use caused what many have claimed to be Wilson’s mental frailty. The album reflects this at many points with its frenetic and busy passages filled with competing noises and textures such as in the mystical “Cabin Essence.” The beauty that emerges from these passages is nothing but pure Wilsonian musicianship. Wilson propagated the innovative recording techniques used in the production of the album and decided to tie the album together musically and thematically in a way that starkly distinguishes itself from Pet Sounds. It is as Wilson proclaims, “a teenage symphony to God.”
If you take away nothing else from this review, get this album.
- Rajiv Rao, co-host of Drop the Needle, Tuesdays 7-8PM on WGTB