Thursday, 19 May 2011

SMiLE Box Set

Turn that frown upside down
SMiLE –re-issue

Beach Boys fans and Brian Wilson fans alike were greeted with the recent news that a box-set focusing on the magnum opus/project SMiLE would finally be seeing the light of day and would feature a “completed” version of the album well as tracks and out-takes from the sessions (although as most people interested in the subject will know an actual version was in fact completed by Brian Wilson, band member Darian Sahanaja and Co-Writer/wordsmith aficionado Van Dyke Parks in 2004 as well as a complete re-recording with Wilson’s touring and studio band.)

If it’s completed already then what’s the point I hear you cry from the balcony, well the cynical ones among us may point the finger at Capitol records that are well aware of the upcoming 50Th year anniversary of the Beach Boys and as there is no new material from the band need something that is going to whip up some interest in the group rather than simply putting out another version of the tried and tested greatest hits for the 100Th time.

In 1993 The Beach Boys released a box-set called 'Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys' and it included large sections of the aborted SMiLE sessions from 1966 and for most people this was enough, the songs that were the central point of the piece such as 'Surfs Up', 'Wonderful', 'Wind Chimes' and 'Heroes & Villains' were all included but the transition themes and musical sections that tied the whole song cycle together were missing and incomplete.

The album itself was finally complete in 2004 using digital editing software such as pro tools to quickly show multiple versions of the same songs and paste them together in every possible way for Wilson's approval, when the final running order was decided upon the incomplete sections were finished and a third movement (yes I consider this stuff modern day classical music so I will be so bold)added to the piece and recorded by the band. This new version is the template from which the 2011 Box Set SMiLE is using as the running order, by using the original tape sessions and then simply leaving the 2004 inclusions out, which doesn’t really make much sense to me apart from re-packaging the same sessions available already online but re-jigging the running order. It seems to be the equivalent of going back to the re-mastered version of Casablanca or Chaplin films and re-adding the fuzz and lines throughout the picture and messing the sound up to make it “authentic”.

As I have mentioned before hindsight is a wonderful thing and with SMiLE and Beach Boys history/folk law it is no different. The SMiLE sessions have historically been portrayed as Brian Wilson (leader/songwriter/producer/genius) following on from his masterpiece PET SOUNDS decided to go one further and make his final statement, his “teenage symphony to God” (originally titled DUMB ANGEL and later changed to SMiLE) the rest of the band couldn’t deal with this “crazy music” and simply mocked his perfectionism and “acid alliteration” as Mike Love was quoted as calling it when referring to Van Dyke Parks lyrics for ‘Cabinessence’ with the coda “over and over, the crow cries, uncover the cornfield” being at the bone of contention (although when you realise the songs make perfect sense to me).

In the end the band turned against Brian Wilson and the tracks and he quit the sessions and junked the project and quietly went to bed for the next year while the band continued to make more “suitable” records that stuck to their tried and tested formula with great (Dennis Wilson's ‘Forever’) and some not so great results (the Mike Love ‘Student Demonstration Time’ being particularly embarrassing.) Now I was saying hindsight being wonderful, well it seems the group has now decided that they ALL love SMiLE era recordings and songs and have in fact always loved them (raising eyebrows around the Parks and Wilson households I’m sure)

Recently I asked Van Dyke Parks about this new revisionist version of events and whether he had been asked to contribute to the promotion and interviews regarding this new box set, he replied that “As the project unfolds, it’s been made clear that it’s The Beach Boys desire to be on the front lines of commentary (regarding the new release) and that’s totally understandable and fair in my view”. When you realise that Beach Boy member/co-founder and Wilson’s co-writer and COUSIN has sued Brian Wilson many times including once for his promotion of the 2004 version of SMiLE you’ll understand why Van Dyke is being cautious before nailing his flag to any particular side.

In the end all we have is the music to judge it all by, when all the lawsuits have been resolved and we forget about the second rate diet coke version of the Beach Boys currently touring your town, only the songs and arrangements Brian Wilson created and the lyrics that Van Dark Parks wrote in tandem will be left and we can then see Wilson’s vision in all it’s glory, and even though incomplete still feel and hear the spark of youth and talent before the years of depression and mental health problems robbed one of the 20Th century’s greatest pop writers of his prime years… hopefully we can listen and finally smile.

For more information on SMiLE (the original sessions and the revised version)

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