Author Topic: SMiLE  (Read 1572 times)

walkman

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SMiLE
« on: February 24, 2004, 09:38:00 pm »
Brian Wilson's masterpiece is coming!
 
 From Pitchfork:
 
 Brian Wilson To Release Lost Classic SMiLE In Fall 2004; Reconstructed Album Performed Live For First Time In London
 
 Collective Pitchfork wood enough to bear weight of sandbox-era Brian, "Hey Santa"-era Carnie combined
 
 Eric Marth and Will Bryant report:
 Perhaps the most highly-regarded unreleased record in rock history, the Beach Boys' SMiLE, is reportedly getting its official release 37 years after its creation, in fall 2004. According to a recent report from BBC News Online: "A few months ago Wilson revisited the SMiLE tapes in Capitol Records' vaults and went on to finish the album with his original lyricist, Van Dyke Parks."
 
 Recorded between April 1966 and May 1967, SMiLE (working title Dumb Angel) was to be Brian Wilson's "teenage symphony to God," an album that would at once best the Beatles and surpass Wilson's latest masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Working with avant-garde lyricist Parks and the session players featured on Pet Sounds, Wilson crafted the album away from the other Beach Boys, who were then touring. Upon their return from the tour, the group met the album with mixed feelings, arguing that SMiLE's obscure lyrics and insanely dense compositions strayed too far from the norm to be considered for release.
 
 As demonstrated on Pet Sounds, Wilson had developed a mastery of the studio as instrument, working with unconventional arrangements that combined modern rock instrumentation with orchestral touches as well as nonmusical objects including water jugs, Coke bottles, hammers, saws, and bicycle bells. Like the 1966 single/masterpiece "Good Vibrations," (which Wilson considers the band's defining achievement) each song written for SMiLE was recorded in pieces, in various studios, during different sessions, and edited later into completed mixes. Recording in this fashion was a long and painstaking process.
 
 Wilson continued to experiment with the studio through the recording of SMiLE, but also suffered bouts with severe drug addiction and mental instability that further delayed the album's completion. In perhaps the most-cited example of Wilson's paranoia, he reportedly became convinced that his music was responsible for a series of fires in the vicinity of the recording studio. Another oft-repeated legend says the reclusive genius cancelled several expensive recording sessions due to 'bad vibes,' distancing himself from his musicians, bandmates, record label, and Parks alike.
 
 Though nearly half a million record covers and booklets were printed in preparation for the release of SMiLE, Wilson abandoned the project in May 1967 and has scarcely spoken about it since. Pending ligitation with Capitol Records (over unpaid royalties), clashes between Mike Love and Parks over the themes and lyrical content of SMiLE, and Wilson's growing disillusionment with the project all led to its being permanently shelved. That June, Wilson holed up in his home studio with his bandmates and recorded the clumsy Smiley Smile, featuring neutered renditions of SMiLE material-- including a severely altered single of "Heroes and Villains" that was partially recorded in Wilson's drained swimming pool.
 
 Some of the more adventurous SMiLE compositions, including the nimble, adventurous "Cabinessence" and majestic "Surf's Up," would surface on later Beach Boys albums, more at the insistence of Carl Wilson than any relevance to the flawed records that characterized the Beach Boys' post-SMiLE output. Carl attempted to resurrect Brian's interest in the project later that decade by attempting to reconstruct the album himself-- only to find he couldn't do it.
 
 The SMiLE master tapes remained unheard until 1988, when Capitol engineer Mark Linett was given access to the master tapes and compiled a selection of session tapes and mixes that are believed to be the source of most SMiLE bootlegs circulated to this day. Ten of these mixes were released as part of the 1993 box set Good Vibrations-- including many tantalizing instrumental variations on "Heroes and Villains" that suggested exactly why the circuitous, ambitious, and often self-referential music was so difficult to assemble without direction from its creator.
 
 As a result, arguments have surged for close to 40 years over the album's playing order, tracklist, and which versions of songs uncovered from the sessions were meant for album inclusion. With the advent of digital music technology, the phenomenon of "fan mixes" and endless assemblies of the extant SMiLE material have created an even larger cult of fanatics fascinated by the unreleased album's lore and conversant in its most arcane minutia.
 
 In June of 2003, far before the announcement of an official album release, Brian Wilson revealed his plans for a SMiLE tour, in which he and his touring group (which includes the Los Angeles band The Wondermints among its 20 members) would make several stops throughout the United Kingdom to perform the legendary album in its entirety. The tour began last Friday, February 20th, at the first of five nights at the Royal Festival Hall in London, England. According to an article in The Guardian, Wilson was cheered by an elated audience, while Parks was greeted by a standing ovation just for taking his seat in the auditorium.
 
 A jovial atmosphere reigned during the album's 45-minute performance, which included the orchestra donning firemen's helmets during "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (a nod to Wilson's goofy insistence that his session players wear them during the 1967 sessions), most of the band abandoning their instruments mid-song to play actual saws, hammers, and drills on "Workshop," and Parks spontaneously joining the band during an encore to dance and play tambourine.
 
 Perversely, one of the reasons SMiLE has baffled music fans for so many years is that it was originally concieved in three distinct movements, with each section its own self-contained thematic suite (how Wilson planned to distribute the three sections over two sides of a record will likely remain a mystery). A bootleg recording of the February 20th performance currently making the rounds on file-sharing networks affirms that the completed SMiLE is a brilliant, cohesive and almost seamless achievement-- with passages as stunningly gorgeous as Pet Sounds' most sublime and surprises even SMiLE guru Dominic Priore probably never saw coming.
 
 The tracklist, as related directly from a setlist posted on fansite The Smile Shop:
 
 01 Our Prayer
 02 Gee [aka "How I Love My Girl"]
 03 Heroes and Villains
 04 Barnyard [suite incorporating "Do You Like Worms," "Bicycle Rider," "Heroes and Villains," and "Barnyard"]
 05 The Old Master Painter
 06 You Are My Sunshine
 07 Cabinessence
 
 08 Wonderful
 09 Look
 10 Child Is The Father Of The Man
 11 Surf's Up
 
 12 I'm In Great Shape
 13 Workshop [incorporating "I Wanna Be Around" and "Friday Night"]
 14 Vegetables
 15 Holiday
 16 Windchimes
 17 Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
 18 I Love To Say Da-Da
 19 Good Vibrations
 
 The first movement of the live performance incorporated just about every released variation on "Heroes and Villains" somewhere in its fifteen-minute span, with previously unheard lyrics for "Do You Like Worms" and "Barnyard" and a brief snippet of the Crows' doo-wop nugget "Gee" thrown into the mix for good measure. Wilson deviated from the minor-key "You were my sunshine" of the bootlegged SMiLE and brought the traditional song back to the present tense.
 
 The "Wonderful" suite binds two of Wilson's most delicate melodies together with the previously instrumental "Look," which cycles through choruses of "The child is the father of the man" (a line Wilson and Parks lifted from a William Wordsworth poem) and new lyrics linking the wide-eyed innocence of "Wonderful" with the resigned majesty of "Surf's Up." Previously unheard string arrangements wind through the latter composition, which was praised by Leonard Bernstein as one of the best songs ever written.
 
 The final section, with the much-speculated-upon "elements" suite, includes bits of Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around," never-heard lyrics for both "Holiday" and pieces of "I Love To Say Da-Da" (the water part of the suite; earth, air, and fire are represented by "Vegetables," "Windchimes," and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," respectively). The last of these-- a manic instrumental simulating the clangs of fire engines amid a disorienting wail of strings-- was surprisingly intense in its live incarnation. "Oh god yes, ["Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"] was quite something very loud... akin to something you might hear at a Godspeed gig," wrote fan Peter Stillman on a Smile Shop discussion board.
 
 Wilson and the group will continue their tour into mid-March, making further stops in Germany, France and Belgium. Dates:
 
 02-24 London, England - Royal Festival Hall
 03-02 Bristol, England - Colston Hall
 03-04 Glasgow, Scotland - Clyde Auditorium
 03-06 Newcastle, England - City Hall
 03-07 Liverpool, England - Empire
 03-08 Birmingham, England - Symphony Hall
 03-10 Frankfurt, Germany - Alter Oper
 03-11 Antwerp, Belgium - Queen Elizabeth Hall
 03-13 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Pepsi Stage
 03-14 Paris, France - Olympia Theater
 
 For further reading on Smile, visit the fantastic album fansite The Smile Shop, which features a comprehensive history of the album's session history, interviews concerning its release and creation and countless other insightful tidbits. Domenic Priore's SMiLE scrapbook, Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMiLE!, is another exhaustive source of documentation, speculation, and commentary.