The Beach Boys – Smile Sessions
2 x vinyl LP 180 Gram, 2011
For an album that caused so much anxiety, madness, and a world being torn apart, is ironically so happy sounding. I would even call it happy-go-lucky. But the truth is it is anything but happy – at least life outside this vinyl or music. But when I put the needle on the record I am transformed into a weird landscape that is for sure America, but America that is transformed into a combination of Walt Disney, psychedelia, and the brash corny humor of “Hee Haw.”
This vinyl set as well as the Smile box set is the official release of this remarkable album. First of all it is hard to grasp all of this after so many years of hearing the bootlegs of these recordings. I have heard so many different versions of this work, that it is sort of like Kenneth Anger, who have consistently tinkered with his films over the years. But what's amazing is that the different mixes, the out-takes, and even the banter while recording the album is equally fascinating. The only people I know who likes Smile are people who have all the bootlegs or just huge fans of Brian Wilson and the boys.
Nevertheless the new (and final?) version is sort of a musical theater placed in one's head. Way more abstract than Pet Sounds which is basically straight forward pop songs, Smile deals with the enjoyment and love of everyday objects and things. “Wind Chimes,” “Vega-Tables,” and even “Good Vibrations” deal with pleasure either through objects, food or spirituality. The lyricist Van Dyke Parks really gets into Brian's head. I know on paper and probably work wise, Parks was a big part of the foundation for these series of songs. But still, I feel it expresses the inner-world of Wilson, a man-child tasting the vegetable for the first time and listening to the wind chimes – and putting on a focus on that act of appreciation. Its really unique in that sense.
Also there is this tension between being healthy and sort of losing it. Almost a hyper attention to getting it together, but of course the sanity of it all is in question. Smile to me is not a downer, but it does expose the dark tinge of disappointment or UN-fulfillment of dreams. But every dark cloud still has that hope attached to it, and Smile is very much a positive outlook on life and how one leads that life.
Smile is very much a set-piece and it has its own narrative, so it's important to hear it from beginning to end. The ambition and scope of this album is pretty grand, and I miss the days when artists went all out to achieve that type of work.