Brian Wilson, Smile
At last, the angels are coherent. I can’t begin to tell how antsy I’ve been with excitement, running around like longtime believer about to receive communion after 37 years. At last we can accurately intimate Brian’s vision of America, humour and the loss of innocence. The whole picture is here.
Musically, thematic/continuity, arrangement-wise, Smile
shits all over Sgt Pepper’s. There’s so much more detail here — vocal/structural colour, amazing instrumentation and variety from banjos to harmonicas, horns. The tension of ascending & descending melodic lines. The continuity of musical theme: Heroes & Villains, Child is Father, Wind Chimes
. The backing vox don’t sound as full as the Beach Boys’ — the unique character of the voices is somewhat absent — methinks the mix is to blame for this. The songs are all so damned familiar now, I want to hear the original identities as on the Box set versions. Sadly. I prefer the warm mellow browns and greens of the analogue masters, not the crisp digital mix which certainly lacks fullness. Brian’s voice is notably less expressive and sad-intimating than before, more clipped in range, and Carl is sorely missed in the lead role.
But the loss of innocence suite (it’s divided into three sections) with Surf’s Up
and the Child
songs, is superb, moving, sculpted, complex. Beautiful strings. Amazing vocals. It starts with Child is Father of the Son, the search, the choppy child-child-child, then lullaby guitars and echo chamber riffs, ‘It’s enough to believe…’, and at the coda to Surf’s Up
, with innocence broken and collapsed, it becomes Child is the Father of the Man
, their song is love etc. I still think it a noble, rich idea/sentiment, especially now we have the complete poetic picture and development. I still have my first impression of the song in my head, of Brian at the piano for that TV special, singing, I thought, in a way that pushed his songwriting drive and melody to the expressive maximum, singing for his life (or his mind, as the case may be). Superlative. Mature.
I like that you can hear that it’s conceived, recorded and edited in sections. The joins are still there. Some pieces sound incomplete, partly because that’s how we’ve always heard them, but I think they’re deliberately left open because they sound good in the stoner sense of when they were written. You just can’t fill an entire album with supreme structure and intense backing vocals, cf Orange Crate Art
. You gotta leave some things open. I like the supremely druggy You are my Sunshine
. I like the rock, fire and water. And (the air of?) Our Prayer
at beginning and end. The revamped Good Vibrations
could’ve been left off, but it’s a nice closer, with a nice little structural surprise. I like the geographic crossings from East to furtherest West America. With trains, rocks, fields and hammers in between. Mrs O’Leary’s Cow/Fire
is still very fucking freaky. The water of In Blue Hawaii
don’t come quick enough. Freaky Brian makes it sound like the fire’s in the head, and not of the good lysergic kind.
This album represents pop music closure on a cosmic scale. And yet, it's lightyears away from the standard idea of the Beach Boys, a world far advanced from Pet Sounds
Definitely a bigger, more detailed essay in the works. So much more to say.