The Beach Boys
When the album becomes Immersion
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 9, 2011
The Beach BoysSmile Sessions Box Set (Capitol)
Nearly four and a half decades after Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson abandoned Smile, pop's great lost album is lost no more. Although somewhat anticlimactic after Wilson's 2004 solo version, the original Beach Boys recordings of Smile are both wondrous and essential. In an era of cramming 12 musicians on one track and tape-editing with razor blades, the concept behind Smile was daunting. After the success of "Good Vibrations," Wilson set out to construct a modular album by connecting a series of musical movements he referred to as "feels." Working with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, he created a distinctly American take on the emerging psychedelic axiom from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii. Despite familiar historical imagery across these five CDs, culled down into a double-vinyl LP with a pair of bonus singles, Smile's whimsical, warbling narrative operates in a time and place of its own. As modules multiplied and Mike Love bristled at Parks' esoteric wordplay, Smile became too much for Wilson to bear in his deteriorating mental state. Even so, his commanding studio presence remains intact here. The core album sequence closely follows the 2004 version except for "I'm in Great Shape," which appears earlier. Certain transitions and lyrical passages were never completed, so "In Blue Hawaii" reverts to the instrumental "Love To Say Dada." The box set contains nearly two full discs of session recordings for "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations" alone. It's fun to hear oddities like the Wild Man Fischer-esque "Teeter Totter Love" (featuring the awful vocals of photographer Jasper Dailey), and ace drummer Hal Blaine playing a tough guy gardener on an outtake apparently intended to promote "Vega-Tables," but most of these session tracks will prove insightful only to diehards. Despite the box set's girth and groovy 3-D cover, anyone who's not a hardcore completist or David Leaf understudy will be sated by the 2-CD version.