So, the Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions (as it’s now officially called, capitalisation and all) is now out. It’s not officially released until Monday (UK) and Tuesday (US), but people have seen it in shops, and some people have got their copy. Unfortunately for me, I’m not one of them – I pre-ordered from Amazon, and they’ve still not even dispatched their copies, while people who ordered from Sainsbury’s (SAINSBURY’S!) have already received theirs.
So right now I’m twitching like I’ve drunk thirty cups of coffee, and checking my email every fifteen seconds to see if Amazon have dispatched it yet. They haven’t. They still haven’t.
But I thought I’d let people know what they should know, before they go out and buy this.
Firstly, Smile is not a finished album. Alan Boyd and Mark Linnet have done their best to get something as complete as possible, but a lot of vocal parts simply weren’t recorded in 1966 and 1967. Unless there’s something I’ve not heard about yet, and that none of the lucky bastards who’ve got their copies have said, the tracks Do You Like Worms, Look, Child Is Father Of The Man, I Wanna Be Around, Holidays and Love To Say DaDa are all missing lead vocals.
If you want a complete Smile listening experience, buy Brian Wilson Presents Smile either the 2004 CD or the (preferable) live DVD version. Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, his collaborator, put together a completed version of Smile in 2004, with lead vocals, extra bits of linking instrumentation and so forth. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and quite probably the best album ever released. It doesn’t feature the Beach Boys’ vocals, but it’s still great, and the closest thing possible to hearing how Wilson and Parks intended the album to sound.
Nonetheless, this Smile will definitely be worth getting. If you like Brian Wilson Presents Smile, you *will* like this. Any album containing Heroes And Villains, Cabinessence, Wonderful and Surf’s Up would, just on the fact of containing those four tracks, be a contender for greatest album ever recorded. Just remember that what you’re getting is closer to the Beatles’ Anthology series than to, say, Revolver.
The good stuff is as good as any music out there. Mike Taylor once asked me to recommend a Beach Boys album, and seemed unhappy when I couldn’t give a straightforward recommendation of a classic album (other than Pet Sounds, with which he was unimpressed). The Beach Boys didn’t really work in album terms – they had good and bad tracks, and which of those tracks actually got released had little or no correlation with quality. This is a band that didn’t release Still I Dream Of It, possibly the most heartbreaking song ever recorded, but did release Hey Little Tomboy, one of the creepiest. This being unreleased music doesn’t mean it’s not great.
Be aware of the different versions There are at least five separate configurations for this music out there:
The single-CD version. This is just a reconstruction of the album, following the template of Brian Wilson Presents Smile, along with a handful of bonus tracks. This is what you should get if you’ve heard and enjoyed BWPS, and maybe own Pet Sounds and a Beach Boys Greatest Hits, but aren’t really a huge fan or anything.
The double-CD version. Same as the single-CD, with a second disc of highlights from the recording sessions. Get this if you’ve got most of the Beach Boys’ stuff already, maybe got the Good Vibrations box set, but aren’t hugely interested in how the tracks are put together.
The double-vinyl version. Sides one to three are the reconstruction of the album, as on the single CD, but side four is a different set of bonus tracks not available on CD. Buy this if you like vinyl.
The box set. This has the double vinyl, the single CD, two vinyl singles (apparently including at least one mix that’s slightly different from anything on CD), four CDs of session outtakes, two books, a poster, and a pretty box. Buy this if you’re me.
The download version of the box set. This just has the music from the five CDs. Buy this if you’re as obsessed with this music as me, but don’t have a turntable and don’t want some pretty books, because it’s cheaper.
Assuming I get this before Tuesday, I’ll be liveblogging the whole Smile experience here, all five CDs, four vinyl records and two books of it. In the meantime, why not visit Arkhonia ? He’s done a wonderful *long* series of posts on Smile, the myth of it, the music, and its portrayal in the media. I disagree with quite a bit of it, especially his dismissal of Smiley Smile, but he’s doing a great job of showing just why this is so important, and why I’m still twitching like mad waiting for this thing.