Album review: The Beach Boys' 'The Smile Sessions'
Artists rarely are the best judges of their own work, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is no exception. “Probably nothing I’ve ever done has topped the music I made with Van Dyke [Parks],” Wilson writes in the handsome coffee-table book that accompanies this elaborate new box set.
He’s referring to “Smile,” the ambitious pop album intended to follow up the Beach Boys’ 1966 landmark “Pet Sounds”; Parks was Wilson’s principal songwriting partner on the project that fell apart (for a variety of creative and health-related reasons) before it could be completed. In 2004 Wilson released a fresh rendering of “Smile” under his own name, and now “The Smile Sessions” collects the original recordings — fragments, outtakes and all. Track titles such as “Heroes and Villains: Children Were Raised (Master Take Overdubs Mix 1)” provide an indication of the record-nerd detail on offer here.
Parts of “Smile” — presented on Disc 1 as it might’ve been had the Beach Boys finished it — do rank among Wilson’s finest work. “Heroes and Villains” is a thrilling mini-symphony whose elegance belies its structural complexity while “Cabin Essence” luxuriates in the purest strain of his melodic genius. (“Good Vibrations” speaks for itself.)
But Wilson’s suggestion that the sprawling, willfully mosaic whole of “Smile” is the equal of “Pet Sounds” discounts the flair for pop economy that helped turn the Beach Boys into icons. He more skillfully balanced inspiration and aspiration elsewhere.
The Beach Boys
"The Smile Sessions" (Capitol)
Two and a half stars (out of four)