Brian Wilson



January 19th, 2005 | 30 replies

Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Released: Nonesuch (2004)

37 years ago, man had yet to set foot on the moon, the Vietnam war was escalating, and the idea of the fall of Communism was nothing but a pipedream. It was also how long ago this album, one of the lost masterpieces of music, was meant to be released as the follow up to the sensational Pet Sounds. Instead, Smiley Smile was released, and the original master tapes for Smile were left to gather dust while it’s cult reputation grew due to a series of bootlegs, from which the genius of the album could be heard. In 2003, the album was finally properly recorded by Brian Wilson and his band, and the long wait was over. After listening to this pretty much constantly for about two weeks, it is clear that the wait was well worth it.

The Songs:
1. Our Prayer/Gee. This effectively serves as an intro to the album, with the first minute and a half being typical Beach Boys vocal harmonies, just going "Ooh" in unison. It immediately shows that the album is still following Wilson's original master plan, but also that his voice has aged well, adding a certain nostalgic power to it, and this segues directly into the next song. 4/5.

2. Heroes And Villains. A remake of the original song, this really bounces along with musical ideas. It would have been all too easy for this record to be somewhat stagnant, but in addition to the trademark vocals, there are crazy effects going off in the background here, with what sounds like a combination between a siren and a whistle sounding seemingly at random, making this a real treat to listen to. It could have been a failure covering classic Beach Boys tracks nearly 40 years on, but it works brilliantly. 5/5.

3. Roll Plymouth Rock. Again, this is led into directly from Heroes And Villains, and is powered along by drums in the background, before keyboards come in to add more melody to the track, and some nonsensical lyrics ("Mahalo Lula"), which really are quite astoundingly beautiful. Wilson has lost none of his gifts on either piano or with his voice, and it's worth pointing out that while his backing band aren't quite The Beach Boys, they are, of course, excellent musicians who have done a quite phenomenal job at bringing these decades-old ideas of Wilson's to life.4.5/5.

4. Barnyard. This starts with an acoustic guitar, with the sound of sheep bleating in the background. It’s a very short song, and is about life on a farm, but it’s hard to really rate it as it’s just too short. It’s another good experimental song though; how many other established artists could put sheep bleating as a centrepiece of an album track and make it sound as good as it does here?

5. Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine. Basically a snippet of Wilson covering the classic “You Are My Sunshine” over a mournful string backdrop, before a saxophone swings into the background, giving a small jazz outro that adds a new dimension to this brief song. Rating the two songs together, they get 4.5/5.

6. Cabin Essence. This is a highlight from the album, with the backing vocals being outstanding, really giving the song more substance due to their spiralling nature. The instrumental section is very sensitively played, with Wilson’s keyboard contrasting brilliantly with acoustic guitars, and strange instruments in the background. The credits for the album include musicians playing the celery, carrots and a drill, so it’s hard to tell quite what instrument is playing at any one time. 5/5.

7. Wonderful. A love song, this has a very classical quality in the way it’s structured musically, particularly on the keyboards, with Wilson singing that “God reached softly and moved her body.” Although it is. of course, hard to tell what this album originally sounded like in his mind, when he famously descended into drug abuse, and wrote songs on a piano in his sandpit, this song really seems to showcase the album for me in that it seems to be genuinely what the album would have sounded like had it been released back in the ‘60s, with natural modifications due to Wilson’s age . 4.5/5.

8/9. Song For Children/Child Is Father Of The Man . There isn’t anything exceptional about these songs, which are part of the same suite of music, although the instruments are layered very well, and there’s some good work on the drums in the background, which supplements the music. It sounds more like kid’s music than at other times on here, thanks to the upbeat nature of the piano, and the lyrics, which refer to the “father of the son” repeatedly. Again, it hits you every now and again just how full of ideas and innovation these songs are, with different ideas seeming to positively fly out of Wilson’s mind, again re-iterating how much of his music was influenced by drugs. While he was, and still is, undoubtedly an incredible talent, there’s no questioning the effect of drugs on him. 4/5.

10. Surf’s Up. Again, another song that is more downbeat than others here, with Wilson singing about “Hung velvet overtaking me”. While it’s hard to accurately interpret his lyrics as really meaning anything due to their often nonsensical style, this song seems undoubtedly sadder than many of his others, with the song basically being accompanied solely by a piano in the verses, which is again in contrast to some of the complex structures present on this album, although these come in to some extent during the chorus. 4.5/5.

11. I'm In Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop. There’s a real brass section present here, lurking under the music, which is back at its complex best. This song leads into the next with a vegetable theme, with lyrics including “I’m in the great shape of the agriculture”, but first the second movement of the song is strangely downbeat, with Wilson singing about broken hearts, giving a curious juxtaposition between the first and second halves of the song. 4.5/5.

12. Vega-Tables. Now this is what we expected from Smile. In this song, Brian Wilson seems to use vegetables as a metaphor for love, in what must surely be the first incidence of this in musical history. Lines such as “I love you most of all, my favourite vegetable” may sound ridiculous, but work brilliantly. Again, the song is very complex, with the vocal harmonies rising to whole new levels, and the music being more and more different than you would consider possible in a 2 and a half minute song, where there should really only be a limited number of styles you can employ. 5/5.

13. On A Holiday. Taking on the persona of a pirate, this is a delightful march through Wilson inviting people to join him. This song immediately reminded me of Alice In Wonderland when I first heard it, as it shares the same unhinged nature, that somehow works as a whole. Again, there are massive mood changes in the songs, with it suddenly becoming more wistful midway through, before a xylophone comes into the song again. The song shouldn't work, but yet somehow it does, and indeed that's one of the most beautiful things about the album as a whole. Even leaving aside how long we've been waiting, nobody else could have made this and got away with it. 5/5.

14. Wind Chimes. Basically, this track does exactly what it sets out to do, with the lyrics referring to wind chimes, and wind chimes being heavily present in the background here. The song suddenly bursts into life about midway through, after a quiet start, giving this an air of real pomp and drama, undoubtedly helped by the return of a brass section that makes bits of this song among the most dramatic on the album. 4.5/5.

15. Mrs O'Leary's Cow. Purely an instrumental song, this is based around repeated scales on the piano initially, while the crazed siren effects go off continually in the background, making this sound like something that Pink Floyd could actually have put on one of their albums (probably Dark Side of The Moon). It gets repetitive though, and isn't overly easy to listen to. 4/5.

16. In Blue Hawaii. Another mournful song initially, with Wilson musing on death, it quickly turns into a surf-pop anthem, singing about waterfalls in Hawaii. Although Wilson's voice isn't as fresh as it once was, on tracks like this he shows that his vocal range is still very much intact and that he's capable of making the wild ideas bouncing around his mind reality; no easy task given quite how outlandishly complex these are. 4.5/5

17. Good Vibrations. What do I say? Seriously, you all know this song. It's the signature tune of The Beach Boys, and has been remade here, ending the album on a beautiful note that is guaranteed to have you smiling at just how much of a masterpiece this was, and how well it's been redone here. It's poignant, and yet still beautifully fun at the same time, and the moment when everything slows, becomes quiet, and then the chorus returns remains a moment of musical genius that most people just couldn't dream of coming close to, although here anticipation is built even more by what is effectively a chant leading into the chorus/. This is one of my all time favourite Beach Boys songs, and is incredible here. 5/5.

Like my review for Graceland by Paul Simon, this has taken ages to write, and I still can't really do it justice. Basically, the wait is over. We all talk about Guns N Roses and how long we've been waiting for them, but this is the most eagerly anticipated album that got away of all time, and it doesn't disappoint. Brian Wilson has always been viewed as a musical genius, but with this he has shown that he can age, age well, and in fact add new layers to his music. Watching his performance that debuted this album in London this year, what struck me was both his evident love for the album, but also for the almost tangible waves of adoration that the audience had for both him, and for this work in particular. I have no idea whether this is what he envisaged the album as, but I believe that it is, and, if not, he has inadvertently created a masterpiece that definitely lives up to the legend. This is an album best listened to as a whole, due to it's flowing nature, and it is seriously worthwhile just to sit back, listen, and admire this, as an album blown back to us from the '60s, and an album that still contains some of the most original new music you will hear this year. I know that's something of a contradiction, but it's far from the strangest thing to do with this album.

Final Rating: 4.6/5

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user ratings (225)
other reviews of this album
MusicReviewer44 (5)
This album does and always has intended for you to do one thing - smile. And now it finally can....

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Comments:Add a Comment 
February 12th 2005


Brian Wilson totally discredits the beach boys...I don't like his attitude

February 19th 2005


Album Rating: 4.0

Amazing album. For the vocal harmonies alone, this album deserves to be praised.

I was never much of a Beach Boys fan, I knew the usual songs as a kid (I Get Around, Surfin USA etc.), and it wasn't until I bought Pet Sounds a while ago that I realized they are highly under-rated as a cheesy 60s pop band (on par with the Monkees) instead of being classed as equals to the Beatles. This is a band that is commonly dismissed, when they shouldn't be.

This is an incredibly anticipated album though, and I truly wish it had come out back in the 60s instead of now. I think they could have achieved legendary status, but meh, you get what you get. Wilson did a great job capturing the spirit though, and it was a refreshing album to hear this year.

I'd give it a 4.5/5. Not entirely essential; I would recommend Pet Sounds over this in a second. But a great album nonetheless.

And excellent review as always, med.

August 7th 2005


Album Rating: 3.5

It's a decent album, the harmonies are nice but some patches are boring.

August 7th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

I'm a casual Beach Boys fan, but this album doesn't really work for me, at least not yet.

The main reason is that Wilson is just too old. His voice doesn't work for the type of music he is expressing right now... depressingly.. it doesn't have the charm of Pet Sounds or anything.

Cygnus Inter Anates
August 9th 2006


I agree with Zmev, basically. There are some really good songs, but he seems to get lost in his own ambitions.

May 31st 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

Excellent review, Iam really interested to hear this album, I will get a copy soon.

May 31st 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

whoa my old account has the first post in here.

I still feel the same though.

May 31st 2007


Brian Wilson has always been viewed as a musical genius, but with this he has shown that he can age, age well, and in fact add new layers to his music.

It's a shame so many others from the 60's can't age gracefully.

June 24th 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

Good, not great.

Harmonies are quite outstanding but the song writing isnt as good as I hoped.

August 4th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

I downloaded "Smile" bootlegs and they are superior to this official recording. After I heard them, this record is just average for me.

September 19th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

This album is such a breath of fresh air for today, although it would have been much better if it had been completed 37 years ago with the beach boys but this album almost killed him, and now it saved his life.

January 24th 2009


Is this album that good? I didn't know this guy still sings.

July 15th 2010


Album Rating: 1.5

really? it just sounds like too much glue was passed around the circus tent

January 9th 2012


Album Rating: 4.0

Album is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Musically it's arguably better on here but you can't top the original BBs on the Smile Sessions although the Wondermints do a fantastic job.

Staff Reviewer
January 9th 2012


brian wilson says smile

Digging: Sex-Dragoon - Mayo

April 26th 2012


Album Rating: 4.5

Listened to this for the first time today. I'm glad that I heard the SMiLE Sessions first, because they really put this in context. It's amazing to me how similarly Wilson was able to make this album sound to the sessions takes. This release definitely does the album justice.

August 27th 2012



August 23rd 2013


Album Rating: 3.5

I like it but I have a version of the orig Smile that I prefer.

Staff Reviewer
October 14th 2015


Album Rating: 4.5

This is fantastic, and a great review from Med as always.

Digging: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!

October 14th 2015


this looks absolutely horrid

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