December 29, 2004

Brian Wilson's Smile

It is impossible to mistake Brian Wilson's music for anybody else's. He uses vocals in his songs to echo or replace bass and rhythm lines. His melodies are simple yet unforgettable. Every tune he writes is unmistakably his. The (finally) released album Smile is no exception. It opens with an a cappella piece that evokes images of a church organ. A church organ playing Beach Boys music, of course. The music turns melancholy, but even when Wilson writes a dirge, in your mind you picture the funeral being held on a bright clear sunny day.

If you're unfamiliar with Smile, it's because it was unfinished for almost 40 years. Because of professional obstacles and personal demons, Brian Wilson only recently completed the work that was to be his Magnum Opus.

In late 1966, fueled by the Zeitgeist, psychedelics, hubris and hashish, Brian set out to create his ultimate "teenage symphony to God." Earlier in 1966 he had almost singlehandedly created the acclaimed Pet Sounds, and had followed up that masterpiece with the gorgeous single, Good Vibrations. (Paul McCartney has called Pet Sounds "the classic of this century.")

Brian Wilson's album Smile

Good Vibrations was always to be the finale to this work, and throughout you'll hear echoes and teasers from it, as well as from other Beach Boys music. Bits and pieces of their well-known music are strewn about, and as you listen your ears perk up as you recognize a familiar tone phrase woven into the music, but joined together in unexpected and interesting ways. Even Good Vibrations is new again, the arrangement is a bit different and the mix is less polished than the classic we grew up hearing.

I've listened to it twice straight through now, and I think it's aptly named. This is a musical smile on a bright sunny day. I like it.

Notes: My wife had a heckuva time finding this for Christmas. Look under "Wilson", not "Beach Boys".

I intentionally did not read any reviews of Smile beforehand, wanting to hear it with an open mind. Here's one reviewer who agrees with me, but says it so much better.

Posted by: Ted at 05:52 AM | category: Square Pegs
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1 Deb got Smile a couple months ago and enjoyed it tremendously. I haven't listened to it start to finish, but liked what I heard. The Beach Boys are a favorite of the baby's, too. Apparently she was born with good taste.

Posted by: Jay at December 29, 2004 06:37 AM (C5Ggm)

2 Cool! I heard well-over a year ago that Brian was working on Smile. Great to hear that it's out. (Yeayh, I get all my news from the blogosphere lately...)

Can't wait to hear it. I saw him live a few years ago during his Pet Sounds tour. The band was amazing and Brian, while his voice is little thinner nowadays, did an great job -- especially noticable during "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder".

Just being in the same room with him would have been enough to make a fine memory, but he really had a top-notch performance going.

Even if his keyboard was unplugged...

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 29, 2004 11:26 PM (a9n1e)

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