Written Sept. 9, 2008…
Okay, let me start out by saying that I stand by everything I said in my review for the Brian Wilson 2004 release of Smile. It is the finished version and the one that the world was meant to hear as a complete album. But today I found this “bootleg” available as a download online. Someone named Ryan Marks put this together and did a brilliant job. He put all the finished and mostly finished versions of these songs that the Beach Boys recorded back in 1966-67 in such a way as to sound as close to the 2004 version as possible. It’s the best, most complete version I have heard in all these years. He made it sound like an almost-finished work. Like an actual “album.” Right down to all the little segues in between each song. Everything flows perfectly. It’s amazing.
All the bootlegs I have heard over the years have just had numerous takes of each song all thrown on, with no rhyme or reason. Then again, there was no way to know before how it should be arranged. Now, with the 2004 version, we can use that as a guide. Then again, who knows if the way Brian put the album together in 2004 is the way he would have sequenced it back in 1967. That is something we can never know. And I imagine even he didn’t know. He probably never got that far at the time.
If this album had come out in early 1967 as planned, who knows what kind of impact it would have had on the musical world. We can only speculate. It is a shame that it never had a chance to do what it could have done. Like I have said though, it obviously wasn’t meant to come out that year. I believe everything happens for a reason. Because of that, 2004 was Smile‘s year.
Anyhow, as for the music itself – naturally it is brilliant. Brian’s modular approach to production was innovative. And this was groundbreaking, experimental, yet still accessible music. It pushed the boundaries of what is considered pop music. There’s not much I can say though that hasn’t been said a thousand times before about this album. It has been analyzed in excessive detail in many books, websites, articles, reviews and interviews for forty years now. This music still sounds mysterious though and continues to fascinate us. It probably always will. I never get tired of hearing it – in any form.
Note that obviously there are a couple of songs with no lyrics (because none were written at the time) but most of what is on here is basically complete.
Is it better than what Brian accomplished with his great backing band in 2004? I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other. They are both brilliant. You can never top the harmonies that the Beach Boys added to this album, although Brian’s new band came as close as humanly possible. All of this just reinforces what I had already known all these years. That Smile was and is one of the greatest works of art in the history of recorded music. Now you have two versions to have your mind blown with.