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Phases & Stages

Record review

Reviewed by Greg Beets, November 12, 2004, Music

Brian Wilson

Smile (Nonesuch)

He did it. After 37 years, Brian Wilson completed one of the most significant unfinished albums in rock history. Given the slack fans have afforded the oft-troubled Beach Boys visionary in his re-emergence, forgiving his uncomfortable stage manner and his no longer being able to sing like a 24-year-old, loyalist hosannas were inevitable even if the resurrection of Smile had been horrifically fumbled. Happily, Smile mostly lives up to the gushes without standard apologist caveats. Hearing the newly recorded album as a completed work instead of dismembered modules is a rollicking reassertion of Wilson's compositional genius. Presented in three movements, Smile begins with the a cappella invocation "Our Prayer" before bursting into "Heroes and Villains," a song that makes much more sense as the album's recurring theme than it did as a Beach Boys tune. Lyricist Van Dyke Parks' elliptical imagery can be frustrating in its parallel quest for child's play and profundity, but his opaque allusions begin to validate themselves when heard in the context of the whole, particularly on the spellbinding second movement that segues "Wonderful" into "Surf's Up." The final movement is the "Elements" suite, featuring the bombast of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" and the carrot-chomping silliness of "Vege-Tables" before ending with an alternate version of "Good Vibrations." You can hear the age in Brian's voice and wonder if his brother Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys' most expressive vocalist, would've participated had he not died in 1998. Whatever questions remain, the central mystery about Smile is solved: We're undeniably richer for Wilson having completed it.


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