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3 October 2009

Beach Boys - 'Smiley Smile' (Capitol)

I have a confession to make - I'm a very late bloomer with the Beach Boys. Actually, I listened to a greatest hits tape a lot when I was in 2nd grade - stuff like 'Help me Rhonda', 'Surfin' Safari', 'In My Room', 'I Get Around' - so maybe that makes me an early bloomer. But it's only in the past 12 months that I really went back and got into SMiLE and post- records. I mean, I've always been cool with that stuff, always liked Pet Sounds as much as everyone else and enjoyed what I've heard of the 70's records, but I never had the total psychedelic breakthrough that was purported to be there lurking in the hours of incoherent SMiLE bootlegs (if only you could have the energy to assemble it yourself). The 2004 Brian Wilson version was decent enough, I guess, but hardly the stuff of legend. And this copy of Smiley Smile's been on my shelf for years, which I used to play just to hear 'Heroes and Villains'. But at some point last year I gave SMiLE another chance, and oh boy, did it hit me. I think everyone just needs to find their own most satsifying SMiLE bootleg. In my case, it was the "Purple Chick" edition (which I'm sure some savvy Googlers can find elsewhere on Blogspot), which rather unconventionally attempts to assemble a coherent version of SMiLE by following the 2004 edition's sequencing and titles, but 95% drawn from the 60s outtakes. There's a few occasions where they have to put the 2004 mix in for a few bars, usually just to link sections together, but I forgive this - it's an incredible package and a feat of excellent editing, and it comes across as the brilliant, almost perfect vision that it's meant to be. For a lot of last winter I would fall asleep listening to this version on headphones, hearing a million screaming voices in the background murk of 'Barnyard' and having American-spiritualist allegorical hallucinations during 'Cabinessence'. I've seen the light, as the saying goes, and maybe the fact that I had to 'work' a bit makes it more special -- I mean, what if you could go down to Best Buy and plunk down some cash for the real legit SMiLE? But now a decade-plus of rock, pop and psychedelic obsessions make sense. Maybe I should go back and listen to those High Llamas records I dismissed back in college. Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand, Smiley Smile - going back to this after hearing the unfinished majesty of the real SMiLE is difficult. Really, I find it almost unbelievable that B. Wilson would even allow this to be released. This is really the sound of giving up - the troubled perfectionist who says 'fuck it!' and just dumps out whatever he cares about the least to make a product. Am I being hard on Smiley Smile? I think not. The version of 'Heroes and Villains' is weak compared to any of the bootleg versions (though it's such an amazing tune that it still stands up even in this form) and 'Vegetables' immediately follows. But there ends the highlights. 'She's Going Bald' is a promising beginning that ends in an unsatisfying bit of studio fuckery - hardly the worst Beach Boys track ever, but just a hint at the aborted "humour" component to SMiLE and so completely tossed off here that it's hard to really enjoy it. The casual becomes the sublime in 'Little Pad', one of the stronger songs even though there's not much to it. 'Good Vibrations' is 'Good Vibrations' but since that was a previously released single it doesn't really count, though it's sure nice to be included here in blistering mono. 'Wonderful' and 'Wind Chimes' are really frustrating because they just sound lazy compared to any of the bootleg outtakes - a lot of the instrumentation behind these tracks is a stripped down synth/organ, almost as if Brian played everything himself just to get it finished. 'Whistle In' ends the record on a forgettable bit of filler, which is all this record really is. Even when I hadn't properly Heard the real SMiLE outtakes, this felt like filler + a few good songs, which is generally how the public received it (if my history is correct). For those people who don't have the guts to venture into bootleg territory, this and a few songs from later records is all you'll get. ('Cabinessence' from 20/20 is perfect, and ditto for 'Surf's Up' when it finally appeared on the album of the same name). And that's hardly enough to base a myth on, so start here and then go find those bootlegs.

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