Brian Wilson Presents Smile – A Retrospective

I have an odd history with this here record.

I did not grow up in a Beach Boys house. Hell, we were barely a Beatles house. CCR was the house band if there even was one.

Sure I heard the singles because we listened to the oldies station growing up. But none of that made me ever chase down the Beach Boys. It took till college and my attempt to tackle the RS 500. Back when that list first came out, streaming wasn’t a thing. I suppose I could have tried to Limewire my way through it, but that thought never occured to me. So, instead I would go through and when I had birthday money or christmas money, I would buy some CDs to cover it. Stuff I knew I had a pretty good chance of loving.

One of them was Pet Sounds. And I really dug that record. Anything that thickly produced, I would be about.

But, I kind of left it at that…didn’t dig further. Still don’t know why… I mean if I had to guess I was first getting into Black Sabbath and Talking Heads then and that probably ate up all the real estate, both mental and financial that I had.

So, I left it at that…

Years later, I am living in chicago. By then I had read more…to be honest, I flat out can’t remember why I bought this CD. I just remember seeing it at Reckless Records and picking it up. I did know a tiny bit of the mythos. That this was the project that made Brian Wilson spend a decade lying in bed. Flat out did not know the level of controversy, fan energy, and oddness around revisiting this project 30 years later.

I put the CD on and loved it from the start.

For me, it felt like a deserving sequel to Pet Sounds…I didn’t think it was as good, but at that time, it really clicked.

Brian Wilson Presents Smile entered my life in a weird time from a physical CD perspective (which is what I bought). Physical media was just starting its swan song, and everything was about iPod and what you could put on there.

This was in the time when you had a true 3.5mm Aux cable, and if you bought a bootleg car charger out of the cigarette lighter, maybe you could keep a charge on the iPod. I didn’t have one.

So I had CDs…my car at the time didn’t have the binders under the seat that my previous car did. But I kept a few CDs in my car in those years. This was one of them.

In fact, the actual jewel case was loose in my trunk for just about the entire time I lived in California.

This album faded from my life sometime around when I left california. To be honest, I kind of forgot about it.

Till recently…been getting really into the back catalogue of the Beach Boys. The glorious post-Pet Sounds albums of depression, loss, and the occasional sunshine.

Which for some reason led me back here…back to Brain Wilson’s revisit of the Smile project years later.

And that brings us to right now. Where I am giving this project another listen…and man it holds up.

Look, I know there is a ton of controversy here among the purists. The kind of people who want Lifehouse and nothing more or less. The kind of people who go on stage at a Weezer show and try to play Blast Off! because they think Songs from the Black Hole would have been Weezer’s finest hour.

That crowd should be fucking grateful they have something like Smile. I don’t think this project was ever meant to be a replacement to one of those Smile Sessions box sets. And yes, I have heard all those tracks.

What I think Brian Wilson was going for here is an attempt to show what a finished project might have been like had it existed. The kind of thing that was going on his head.

Is it perfect?…unfortunately no…

For as big of a spot as this project has in my heart, this thing has two flaws. One, Brian Wilson got old. Happens to all of us. Ill give the most glaring issue off the bat.

I have expressed my love for the eventual album this song was pieced together from, and the recording of this song on there is a masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, this one is a fine version, but…you can feel some of the loss of range and expression. Its just…not as nice.

The other issue is it definitely suffers from mid-2000s production. Oh they do everything in their power to hide it. This thing is smothered in old school technique, instruments, vocal layers, etc. But…just around the edges you can tell…its too smooth. Doesn’t sound earthy enough.

Ok, so now that we got that out of the way. what this totally works as is a jam. The jam that was in his head all those years ago.

What I never get going through the pieces of a trainwreck was what the total vibe of the thing was going to be. What a completed project would feel like. And hell, i know there is STILL people who disagree with this project and the influence it has had on “Smile” purists everywhere.

To them I would (again) say, fuck you. You were given a gift here. Sure its 30 years late, but Brian Wilson gave it to you. Whether it would have sounded 100% like this back in 1967 is irrelevent. This is what he has of it now.

And you know what, its fuckin great man. I am impressed he put together a band that could actually do that kind of Beach Boys sound they had then. The kind of refined chaos they demonstrated on pet sounds…I really wish I would have seen them live, because I bet they could belt the shit out of some of those Pet Sounds track.

The albums shine is the consistency. He has a vibe here. It isn’t mellow or depressing but joyful. A version of a 1967 where he didn’t spend it in bed. It doesn’t get to the absolute purity the Beach Boys had but got damn if it isn’t the next best thing.

3.5/4 – This will be a 4/4 in my heart forever. But I’ll give it a 3.5 cause I just can’t quite get over the hump. Maybe I have to get older and it’ll stand with Surf’s Up to me… who knows. For now, here is where we are, and that isn’t a bad thing.

Keep the vibes positive…or at least try to. And thats Brian fucking Wilson of all people telling you that.

© Church of the Holy Flava 2016 - 2021