Brian Wilson Presents Smile
By Carlo Lynch
I remember The Beach Boys’ music as summertime fluff. I know that Pet Sounds is a pop-music masterpiece, but I still find it difficult to fathom that the band that soundtracked fourth grade slip-and-slide sessions and pop-and-chip parties can be taken seriously. We used to shriek “let’s go surfing NOW” along with the band before hitting the soaked, yellow linoleum rolled out in suburban backyards. In my teens, I saw them play after a triple-A ball game before rafters of sports enthusiasts and a sputtering of fireworks. How could this be an important band?
Brian Wilson has rerecorded Smile, which would have been the follow-up to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds if it wasn’t for a drug-induced paranoiac fit causing the album to be shelved until now. The album opens with swirling, choir-like vocals — an anticipatory sound that immediately hooks the ear. The intricate, delectably off-kilter melodies and the viscosity of textures that follow will leave indie-rockers like The Shins stammering with adoration. With this release, Wilson has reiterated his influence over pop-rock.
Wilson is interested in the pop formula, but only borrows fragments of it. Instead of simple 2-3 minute songs, neatly ordered but independent of each other, Wilson has put together pop’s magnum opus. The songs run headlong into each other, each idea bleeding into the next. The music is symphonic, using pop choruses and melodies as themes tucked into dense soundscapes. This ambitious orchestration is well-matched with light and sometimes silly lyrics, such as Wilson’s ode to vegetables: “If you brought a big, brown bag of them home, I’d jump up and down and hope you toss me a carrot.” The lyrics are the Beach Boys’ trademark splash of summertime citrus, tempering what is otherwise a serious, ambitious album. – (9/10)