December 2004

Brian Wilson - Smile
Nonesuch Records 79846-2
Format: CD
Released: 2004

by Doug Blackburn

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

While Smile was not released in 1967 as anticipated, some Smile songs appeared on several Beach Boys albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. You’ll know "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations" for sure. Fans will also know "Vega-tables" and "Surf’s Up." Uber-fans who bought The Beach Boys' box set got to hear the Smile tracks that had been recorded before Wilson shelved the project. While those tracks are interesting as historical documents, they left me wondering why Smile got so much attention back in the day. The 2004 release of the completed work has entirely dissolved any doubts about Smile -- this is a certified masterpiece.

The Story of Smile… Abbreviated

Smile was the most talked about -- and written about -- unreleased album in rock music history. Smile was to be Brian Wilson’s answer to The Beatles’ Revolver and might have preceded Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had the Beach Boys not been so timid, overwhelmed and confounded by Wilson’s masterpiece. The Beach Boys’ rejection of Smile was one of the contributing factors to Brian Wilson’s 30+ years of instability, depression and disconnection from the world. Since Wilson’s tenuous re-emergence into the light of the world in the late 1980s, any mention of Smile would be met with silence and a death-mask facial expression -- so deep was his dread of the mere thought of the Smile project. Yet Wilson knew Smile had to be liberated. Gently nudged in the direction of finishing Smile by Darian Sahanaja, one of the members of his band, and others, eventually Wilson made the commitment to not only finish Smile, but to perform it live in London with his new band -- then record it for release more than 35 years after the project started. Wilson reconnected with lyricist Van Dyke Parks to complete the masterpiece. Despite much anxiety, the live performance went off as planned in London and a US Smile tour will be nearing an end as this is published.

Recommended resources: and Showtime’s "The Beautiful Dreamer – The Story of Smile."...Doug Blackburn

Smile is bursting with creative power -- glorious, joyful and fun -- exactly what Wilson had in mind with the title. You may notice brief tributes to some of Wilson’s favorite music, including Rhapsody in Blue. Snippets of "Good Vibrations" are sprinkled throughout, precursors to its fabulously updated and triumphant finale. The familiar songs are more fleshed-out and better-sounding than the single versions you have been hearing for more than 35 years. Wilson’s band is amazing at bringing his vision to life. The harmonies soar, instruments and vocals have real feeling, and even the most complex passages offer no obvious difficulty to this extraordinary ensemble. Wilson uses modern production tools to perfection -- deep bass, extended highs and sonic detail much richer and more detailed than possible with the ancient analog-tape multi-tracking Wilson used to build the best Beach Boys music.

If there is any justice in the world, Smile will be recognized as one of the best rock releases of all time. Bravo Brian Wilson -- thanks for slaying the Smile demons so we could have this extraordinary music in our lives. I laughed, I cried, I was overcome that something this beautiful could finally come to us and be even better than it would have been had it been released way back when.