Thursday, February 28, 2008

CD Review: Smile

1) Our Prayer/Gee
2) Heroes and Villains
3) Roll Plymouth Rock
4) Barnyard
5) The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine
6) Cabin Essence
7) Wonderful
8) Song for Children
9) Child Is Father of the Man
10) Surf's Up
11) I'm in Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop
12) Vega-Tables
13) On a Holiday
14) Wind Chimes
15) Mrs. O'Leary's Cow
16) In Blue Hawaii
17) Good Vibrations
Around the same time he was making Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson made "Good Vibrations", one of the most innovative pop recordings of all time. He soon started work on Smile, a symphony of an album that would be made in the style of that song. It was a great idea, but one that just couldn't come to fruition in 1966.
He couldn't do it then, so he did the next best thing and waited until 2004. He didn't have the Beach Boys or the Wrecking Crew of top-notch session players, but his current backing band is just as good. Cocaine and cigarettes have destroyed the voice Brian had back in the 1960s, but he can still sing decently enough in the studio. But when he tries to hit those high notes live...plug your ears.
But I digress. Smile was an ambitious project even by 2004's standards, but the superhumanly talented Wilson and his friends managed to pull it off just fine. It is a true symphony, one that required the addition of strings and horns to what was previously a ten-piece band.
The album was composed in a style somewhere between classical and pop, one employing Beach Boy-style harmonies throughout an album one must listen to all the way through. The album is divided into three movements, each with a lyrical and musical theme. The first six tracks center on "Heroes and Villains", with Van Dyke Parks waxing poetic on American culture and history. Tracks seven to ten discuss childhood, adulthood, and death, with "Surf's Up" as the centerpiece. The remainder, based on "Good Vibrations", focuses on nature, with tracks about vegetables, fire, wind, and water.
Whoa, a song about vegetables? Smile is an odd album, like all the truly great ones. Symphonies may not be your cup of tea, but Smile is so well written, performed, arranged, and produced, one can't help but appreciate it.
****1/2 out of five

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