Review Summary: Fragments that form together to make a cohesive – and utterly fascinating – whole.
“SMiLE became an intimate epic, a vision and history of America . . . as experienced via the mind, the memory, the consciousness of one two-minded pilgrim in progress through time and inner space. The words are allusive and elusive as images blend together then blur apart. Pirates and Puritans, Indians and cowboys collide in a semi-civilized ebb and flow, a reverie-slumber or cubistic-daydream: in psychedelic step by step.
” - Tom Norton
It has often been said that SMiLE
, had it been released in 1967, would have been the Beach Boys' – or rather, Brian Wilson's – attempt at competing with Sgt. Pepper
. But, listening to SMiLE
in the form we have now, The SMiLE Sessions
, it seems as if the boys jumped straight from Sgt. Pepper
to side B of Abbey Road
. Much like that suite, SMiLE
is presented to us (at long last) as a collection of fragments that may seem disjointed at first, but by the end somehow seem perfectly interconnected.
A perfect example of this fragmentation is in the first three tracks of the album in particular; in roughly six minutes, the album switches gears from a haunting choral piece (“Our Prayer”) to a more upbeat one (“Gee”) to a multi-sectional pop mini-epic (“Heroes and Villains”). The shift between tracks is startlingly abrupt yet perfectly timed – much like the B-side of the Beatles' famed opus. Van Dyke Parks' contribution here is felt throughout SMiLE
, as many of the songs alternate between more traditional Beach Boys-esque vocal sections and more baroque, free-form orchestral arrangements. Parks' lyrics occupy a middle ground between Victorian elegance and modern simplicity, and manage to fit these arrangements perfectly. Yet despite the obvious separation between its movements, SMiLE
, in all of its long lost beauty, never feels awkward or forced in its execution. It is simply remarkable that these songs, even in the current state, feel so wonderfully complete when it has been stated many times (by Wilson himself, no less) that few of these songs ever reached their final stage of completion.
is, and always was, supposed to make you smile, as the album title so obviously shows. And, make no mistake about it, SMiLE
will indeed make you smile. But despite the jovial surface of it all, an undercurrent of sadness runs throughout these songs. Whether it's the eerie harpsichord and tribal chanting of “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)” or the off-key saxophone that drives the short “I'm in Great Shape,” SMiLE
is equal parts joyous, sad, and strangely off-putting. Like any great piece of art, it often challenges the listener to follow along in its twists and turns, and one can only imagine how the average music listener in 1967 would have reacted to it.
To say nothing of what it could have been, SMiLE
, in its current state, easily rivals, and even surpasses Pet Sounds
as the Beach Boys' crowning achievement. It takes the art pop grandeur of Pet Sounds
and takes it a step further into full-on psychedelic territory, and does so marvelously. The vision of Brian Wilson may not have been ever fully realized, but what he left us with The SMiLE Sessions
is more than enough. Perhaps if SMiLE
had been released in 1967, the Beach Boys would be taken as seriously as the Beatles by the majority of pop music listeners today. But alas, we can never know – we can only dream – and perhaps it is better off that way after all.
"Heroes and Villains"
"Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)"