The Beach Boys
The Smile Sessions


5.0
classic

Review

by War On Drugs: Suck My Cock USER (20 Reviews)
February 5th, 2012 | 21 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

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.

SMiLE 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.

Recommended tracks:
"Heroes and Villains"
"Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)"
"Cabin Essence"
"Surf's Up"
"Good Vibrations"



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user ratings (189)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
February 5th 2012


7401 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

How didn't this have a review yet?!

someguest
February 5th 2012


21200 Comments


Cool, somebody finally wrote something for this album.

I like how you pointed out how casual most people perceive this band to be, and I think Wilson really hated it.

someguest
February 5th 2012


21200 Comments


I understand. I told some people I bought this and I got a bunch of smirks.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
February 5th 2012


15067 Comments


obvious point here considering the nature of the thing but i think this would have been better had wilson et al had the time / motivation or whatever to release it as, like, an actual album.

the songs are just too loose, throwing away some good ideas for bad ones, or jumping around a lot and not really latching onto anything great. which is fine, and it all sounds very creative and fun, but i think the actual meat of the album would be better were it more imbued with the tighter pop structures of pet sounds or whatever. normally i'd enjoy this on its own terms a little more as a collection of "unfinished" stuff but i do think it's weird that some people are literally calling it the best beach boys release ever when it's definitely not. i love the version of "you are my sunshine" and "cabin essence" the most

Tyrael
February 5th 2012


20945 Comments


this is amazing

Digging: Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

Titan50
February 5th 2012


4588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So good. Not as good as Pet Sounds, but being close is an achievement in itself

Aphrodisiac
February 5th 2012


1739 Comments


nice review joey brown
i was the first to pos but I thought I'd leave a comment

fsharptrit0ne
February 5th 2012


4814 Comments


beach boys for life

MUNGOLOID
February 8th 2012


4350 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yup, this is awesome.

StrizzMatik
February 13th 2012


3219 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Love this so, so much. Easily rivals some of the best albums ever released.

Spon426
March 1st 2012


15 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

absolutely brilliant. possibly even better than pet sounds. had this been released in '67, it'd probably be recognized as the greatest album of all time.

Tiago1987
April 23rd 2012


31 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Brilliant album.

aresx
May 3rd 2012


307 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This is probably just as good, if not better than ANYTHING the Beatles have recorded.
although i'm surprised that you didn't mention the 2004 version of this album at all in this review

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 3rd 2012


15067 Comments


pretty good album

not even close to pet sounds

AtavanHalen
May 17th 2012


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

got the 5-disc version of this

holy shit

so much goodness

Spec
July 5th 2012


27269 Comments


gotta check

Digging: Midnight - No Mercy for Mayhem

Ugadawg86
July 7th 2012


4 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great album! I wish it had a stereo mix :-(, but the mono version sounds really good.

Rev
September 26th 2012


9439 Comments


so Brian Wilson was apparently just kicked out of the Beach Boys

Polyethylene
November 15th 2012


3217 Comments


Lakes you qt

Digging: Son Lux - At War With Walls And Mazes

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
June 24th 2013


4453 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7


pretty good album

not even close to pet sounds


I feel the same way. Pet Sounds, as a whole, is the better album. Though, I have to admit that "Surf's Up" is a better track than anything out of Pet Sounds-- even surpasses "Let's Go Away For A while", "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times", and "Pet Sounds" as Brian Wilson's best song in my opinion.



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