Smile was originally intended to be the follow-up project to Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks worked on the Smile album for months. The project was never finished as Brian Wilson’s increasing health problems forced its abandonment. Various songs from Smile appeared on Beach Boys albums during the next decade. The complete Smile album took on legendary status as the holy grail of lost music.
We now move forward in time over thirty years. Brian was no longer involved with the Beach Boys but more importantly his health was good. He had been presenting Pet Sounds live in concert. These performances turned Brian Wilson’s thoughts back to Smile.
Brian Wilson contacted Van Dyke Parks and began to work on a resurrected Smile. It was no longer a Beach Boys project but rather was now a solo effort.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brian Wilson being able to rid himself of 37 years worth of demons and not only return to the project that was a part of his health issues but to complete it as well.
The completed Smile was released in 2004. It would reach number 13 on the Billboard charts and eventually sold over one million copies.
We will never know what a late 1960’s Beach Boys Smile would have been like but we do know that the 2004 Brian Wilson Smile certifies him as a genius.
Smile explores textures and melodies that are at the edge of the listening experience. Brian Wilson has created some of the best harmonies of his career and molded them in and throughout his melodies.
We also finally have Smile in its original form. The randomly released songs of the late sixties and seventies now make sense as they become part of a complete listening experience. And Smile is above all a listening experience. No matter how many times you may play this album new delights await.
Smile is divided into three suites.
The first suite is spiritual in an odd sort of way. The opening “Our Prayer” sets the tone and atmosphere for what is to follow. “Heroes and Villains” is changed from a good song into a great song. The harmonies meander along and draw the listener into an experience of sound from which there will be no escape until the albums conclusion. “Cabin Essence” closes out this first suite with its beautiful lyrics and a sense of calmness.
The four song second suite is the most spectacular. Many people have called this the child suite. The final two songs, “Child Is The Father To The Man” and “Surf’s Up,” are musically inventive and form one of the best blocks of music in modern rock history.
The third suite is a little more disjointed but the individual pieces are brilliant. “Mrs O’Leary’s Cow” is an instrumental that is like a cross word puzzle that has been pieced together. It would win a Grammy award as best rock instrumental of the year. I think it is the only Grammy that Brian Wilson has ever won. “In Blue Hawaii” would have been an excellent song to end Smile however “Good Vibration” is a brilliant song for albums end. Brian has returned to the original lyrics and created new sounds for one of the most creative songs of all time.
Smile is ultimately a tribute to cellos, sleigh bells, changing moods and brilliant harmonies that had been held captive in Brian Wilson’s fertile mind for 37 years. Smile allows Brian Wilson and fans of the Beach Boys to find redemption and peace.