Review Summary: Bizarrely brilliant
It's easy for the actual music of an album like Smiley Smile to be overshadowed by the history surrounding it. Released as the follow up to Pet Sounds, one of the most influential pop albums of all time, the Beach Boys had quite a bit to live up to, and their plans were ambitious. They were crafting an epic opus of an album, one that would push the pop music landscape past where Pet Sounds had left it one year prior. One that would cement the Beach Boys as one of the worlds premier pop bands. That album was called Smile, and unfortunately, due to a number of reasons I wont get into here, it all fell apart. Eventually Smile would be released in a somewhat-final form by Brian Wilson himself, but in the meantime all the public had was some demos and the album that was released in Smile's place, Smiley Smile.
It is a truly bizarre disc, a collection of songs and short interstitular recordings united only by their complete, utter, and sometimes inexplicably dedication to being strange. Most of the songs take the form of strange experiments; theres the dark "Woody Woodpecker Symphony", which wraps the bands twisting, wordless vocal harmonies in spare instrumentation and ambience. She's Going Bald clatter's through jazzy melodies, bizarre lyrics, and horror movie piano all in less then 3 minutes, and Wonderful takes a simple pop ballad base, and twists it up with whispered vocals and high pitched harmonies.
There are a couple of full, straight up brilliant pop songs here, namely opening number Heroes And Villains, and of course the classic Good Vibrations. The former kicks the album off with apblomb, a careful blend of brillaint melodies and intricately woven vocal's that recall some of Pet Sounds better moments. The latter is pop perfection, the sole surviver of the original Smile sessions, and a good indicator of what that album would have sounded like. It is simply brilliant, a symphony of melody and orchestration, all condensed into 3 and a half minutes of pure genius.
These two songs alone are worth the price of the album, but the brilliance of Smiley Smile is how it takes every strange, ill-fitting piece of music it holds and makes it all work. All the songs here have a kernel of brilliance in them, and it shines through fantastically. Even something as short and initially off-putting as Little Pad contains some absolutely incredible melodies to it, and every strange twist the songs take (see Wonderful's strange, spoken-over breakdown) somehow work. It's a strange listen, but oh is it ever worthwhile.
So go get a copy, and relish in one of the most bizarre, underrated, and simply brilliant albums of pop musics history. Smiley Smile can be a strange listen to get through, but The Beach Boys pull it all off, somehow, someway, and if you arent left at least slightly affected by this album, then I would honestly be shocked.