Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Smile According to Me (and Brian Wilson)

The book of my generation: Rubber Soul begot Pet Sounds. And Pet Sounds begot Sgt. Pepper. And Pepper begot Smile, but Smile walked in the wilderness for almost forty years until it was finally released last Tuesday. And lo I say unto you it is good.

But I had my doubts. Maybe Brian Wilson is the ultimate sixties survivor, but nevertheless I wondered how he could actually pull this one off. I became a Brian Wilson fan (as opposed to just a Beach Boys fan) after hearing Holland in 1974, and specifically “Sail on Sailor”. Going backwards I discovered songs such as “Surfs Up” and “Cabinessence” as well as rediscovering “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” I read the legend of Smile, the great lost Beach Boys album gone awash in bickering and madness. I had even listened the past few years to inferior recreations on the web. That’s a lot of baggage to carry thirty-seven years.

And so I hesitated in purchasing the CD, until I read the reviews through Metacritic and thought damn but there’s an unusual consensus among these disparate voices that Smile is the real thing. And so it came to be that I discovered it is indeed a “teenage symphony to God” as Brian himself called it.

It is an Aaron Copland work of pop music. Brian deconstructs the pop song and then rebuilds it. Van Dyke Parks, the lyricist, works wonders with his words. Themes appear and disappear and reappear like the seashore on a wavy day. You really haven’t heard “Good Vibrations,” arguably the greatest pop song in history, until you’ve heard how the entire record builds up to that concluding explosion of theme and melody and harmony and instrumentation.

In the end, Smile is a work of genius and simplicity. Brian Wilson plays with melodies and rhythms while Van Dyke Park fools with words and gist. Each is concerned with the wonders of creation, but neither is interested in significance. Pretension never gets in the way. And so Smile is my generation’s long lost Songs of Inncocence, and that ain’t too damned shabby, friend.

OK. You're up, Paul.

4 comments:

K. said...

Hmm. Your genealogy seems to be missing the record I might consider the best of the period for these two bands: Revolver.

Nonetheless, I downloaded Smile today and after one listen, with headphones on and while working, my first impression is quite positive. I've never been the biggest Beach Boys fan and even Pet Sounds didn't do much for me, but it seems there's potential here. More listenings will be required, however.

Greg said...

No doubt that Revolver belongs there, but for purposes of that paragraph, it had to to bow out. Revolver is actually a close second in my all-time favoprite Beatles recors. Some day it is first. But I guess I still carry the prejudice for Rubber Soul as first released in the US. Which of course is not the real Rubber Soul. And the real Revolver picked up 2 or 3 Lennon tunes from the original US which make a dramatic difference in the quality of that release. But that's for another day.

mark young said...

Greg

I too was going to berate you for overlooking Revolver, but since it's already been done, & I'll grant you your poetic license to leave it out, I'll just insert a quote from a poem of mine.

now I am listening
to Revolver & decide again that
this album & not Sergeant Peppermarked the paradigm shift for The
Beatles even though for me
when I first heard them the order
was reversed.

Mark

Greg said...

Mark, nice. Here in the States, for anyone who bought the records when they were first released, as I did, there are now 2 Revolvers and Rubber Souls. Which makes things even more confusing. Capitol Records butchered all the Beatle releases (until Sgt Pepper) by cutting songs out. All so they could release more records with the ones they removed. So not only do I have that change of heart that may come with passing years but then there's the memories of those earlier releases.