Famously cancelled and abandoned in 1967, The Beach Boy’s proposed Smile album was consistently hyped during its recording process to be a masterpiece, or as Brian Wilson called it, “a teenage symphony to God”. So when Wilson suddenly pulled the plug on the highly-anticipated project, it became something of a legend in pop music history, earning the moniker of “the most famous unreleased album of all time”.
About 44 years later, the surviving members have finally decided to release all of the Smile sessions commercially, including a version of the album that Wilson insists is the closest thing to his original vision as there can be. In addition to the album, there are 4 extra CDs as well as 4 vinyl LPs featuring hundreds of outtakes, studio banter, and newly remixed versions of some tracks. Capital records have gone all out in presenting as much of the mythic sessions as possible, which will certainly be appreciated by Brian Wilson fanatics.
Given it’s reputation as a psychedelic masterpiece, I naturally expected there to be some level of strangeness to the album, but nothing could have prepared me for the finished product. Listening to the album really feels as if you are exploring Brian Wilson’s drug-addled brain. You never quite know where the album is going to go next—it suddenly goes from the sounds of a workshop to a piano ballad followed by Theremin-backed warnings to keep off the singer’s vegetables. It’s easy to see how the record company saw the project as unfit for release; nothing this experimental would get released for 20 years. Perhaps it’s for the best for the album to be released now, in a musical climate that will accept it as brilliant rather than a confused 1960’s audience. The 5 CD, 4 LP box set is only recommended for hardcore fans, however I believe that everyone should at least own a copy of the 2 CD version also available. It is notable note only for historical value, but as an experience that I can guarantee will blow your mind and will leave you wondering how much farther along music would be had the band continued on this route.