Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Brian Wilson Smile (2004)


In the “Tribute Concert to Brian Wilson” on DVD, released a couple of years ago, Sir George Martin took the stage and narrated a short film about how Brian Wilson was the biggest influence (and challenge) to The Beatles. How they were blown away when they heard “Pet Sounds.” (Paul McCartney has called “God Only Knows” the greatest song ever written.. ) ..

He talked about how it took his own combined talents as their producer, the writing talents of Lennon and McCartney, and the instrumental virtuosity of all four Beatles to create their records, but Brian Wilson did ALL of that for the Beach Boys.. wrote the songs, arranged them, sang them, played instruments and ran the board during production and editing. What George Martin was saying was that it took him and all four Beatles to do what Brian could do alone.

Now who am I to argue with Sir George. As much as I love and adore The Beatles’ music, he was right. I can almost picture John and Paul sitting slack jawed when they first heared “Pet Sounds.” To which they answered with “Revolver” to which Brian was going to answer with “Smile” but then.. you know the rest.

The catch phrase going around about “Smile” is “Imagine if Sgt. Pepper had been shelved and released 37 years later.” It is a very apt and fitting description of the feeling, the tears of joy, that any fan of Brian’s will get when they play this album.

Of course, Carl and Dennis are deeply missed, and yes, Brian, now 62 years old, doesn’t have that soaring falsetto he had forty years ago (on the same DVD I mentioned above, a must-buy if you are a true fan, Vince Gill performs “Warmth of the Sun” and the high falsettos in “Surf’s Up” and he was chosen for that concert, specifically to sing those songs, because his crystalline pure falsetto can reach those notes that Brian can’t any more..) ..

The Wondermints, Brian’s new band, totally get it. I’m not sure if anyone totally gets Brian, but it’s evident that he has a band of guys half his age who are totally devoted to him to the point of worship, and their goal was to do his songs justice. And that is what they’ve done.

Brian’s wife, Melinda has described many times the inner demons that still haunt him, even on stage. The man has gone through some fundamentally sad, tragic, near-fatal periods of total suffering in his life, and for him to emerge from all that’s happened to him, decide to revive “Smile” and release an album this beautiful is nothing less than unbelievable.

Sure I have various bootlegs of the 37 year old tapes. What true fan doesn’t? And yes, it would be nice to have a companion piece to this new recording made from those original tapes. I wonder what the dolts at Capitol Records think of watching what might have been their album soar to #1 on a little Warners’ house label like Nonesuch..

But let’s not get bitter here.. the album is, afterall, “Smile” and that’s what it will make you do. The music is not always easy. It might take a couple of listens, but it just goes to show again that a true artist is always ahead of his audience, not the other way around. A truly talented artist challenges his audience, whatever medium he works in. Think about it, it’s 2004, and this is 1967 music that’s still ahead of its audience.

I can only chalk up some of the negative reviews of “Smile” found here to folks who simply are too young to know what 1967 was like. It was, IMO, simply the year of the best pop and rock music ever released. If you were there, if you were in High School or College back then and buying records, you know what I mean. One masterpiece after another came out that year. Maybe we Boomers wouldn’t have understood Smile if it had been released in 1967. Sgt. Pepper’s is much more accessible music. Smile pushes you to think. It’s complex. Challenging. It’s as revolutionarily brilliant as George Gershwin’s music was in the 1920s. Eighty years later, people can still enjoy and revel in “Rhapsody in Blue” or “An American in Paris.” They’re still played and new recordings of them are still released.

“Smile” is like that. This is music that people will be listening to, enjoying, and talking about for many years.

Calling Brian a genius is doing him an injustice. We’re plain lucky tha he’s still around, and could give us “Smile”.. it’s joy, and leagues and light years ahead of most of what passes for music these days. If it doesn’t click for you, put on some good headphones and listen to it seriously, block out distractions, and try to understand where this music came from, and who it came from.

On the last page of the booklet that accompanies the jewel case in the beautiful white textured slipcase, Brian dedicates “Smile” to all his fans who waited so many years for it.

Brian, it was worth the wait. It’s beautiful. Thank you!

May 4, 2013 Posted by | Brian Wilson Smile | , | Leave a comment