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Archive for November 2nd, 2011

Review: The Beach Boys, “The Smile Sessions” Part Three: It’s In Great Shape

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Welcome to the third and final part of our review series celebrating the release of The Beach Boys’ The SMiLE Sessions.  In Part 1, we revisited the history of the album, and in Part 2, we examined the music and lyrics of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks that created the legend.  In today’s concluding chapter, we explore “the sessions” of The SMiLE Sessions and compare the various releases!

What’s the biggest surprise of The SMiLE Sessions?

It’s the sound of five young men optimistically working together to create an album that, looking back, we know will never see release.  The tales of internal strife surrounding the recording and eventual abandonment of SMiLE are numerous and needn’t be recounted here.  Those aren’t the tales told in this lavish box set, either.  Instead, The SMiLE Sessions reveals a dedicated group committed to bringing this music to life, regardless of whatever skepticism may have emerged later or was voiced outside of the confines of the studio.  If the Beach Boys’ lack of support did, in fact, contribute to the erosion of Brian Wilson’s confidence in the project, it likely didn’t happen overnight.

At nearly seven hours’ length, the box set is exhaustive but never exhausting.  It’s an audio verite look at Wilson’s most famous experiment in modular songwriting and production.  Of the five compact discs, the first includes the album and a selection of bonus material.  The remaining four discs canvas the making of the album, with the entirety of one disc devoted to “Good Vibrations” and the near-entirety of another to “Heroes and Villains.”  It’s hard to reconcile the confident studio wizard here with the legend of the defeated man who abandoned his magnum opus.  It’s even harder, nearly unimaginable, that these songs (which we hear in various states of completion) were, in fact, consigned to Capitol’s vaults.

The SMiLE Sessions reveals a painter with the studio as his canvas, restlessly pursuing the beauty in his head.  Though that pursuit came with a price, Brian Wilson triumphantly made it to the other side.  The 2004 release of Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE may have been the first measure of closure for the composer/producer/singer, but 2011’s The SMiLE Sessions completes a circle of its own.  Of course, it’s the first official release of an album that’s nearly a sacred grail to many, but it also marks a rapprochement of a kind between Brian Wilson and the three living men who share the label “Beach Boy” with him: Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine.  All of them, plus the late Carl and Dennis Wilson, have moments to shine on The SMiLE Sessions that make a solid argument for their significance to the project in a positive way.  That might be the most illuminating aspect of a box set that’s revelatory at nearly every turn.

Just what will you find in the enormous box?  Hit the jump, friends! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 2, 2011 at 15:02