If you're not familiar with the history of this infamous never released LP from the late '60s then my ramblings won't mean much. But if you are aware that SMILE is one of the most talked about albums of all time in spite of the fact that the Beach Boys never released it. In fact, they never finished it. And there's the rub.
I recently bought the new 2-cd set, The Beach Boys SMILE Sessions, a fantastic mini box set featuring the "album" and many previously unreleased tracks and fragments. Notice I put "album" in quotes. The original album was never completed.
The November 2011 release is an attempt to finish the album Brian started. It would be infinitely more significant if it had been completed in the '60s but not issued. Then we could attempt to judge it on its own merit and second guess it's impact had it been released back in the day. As released it is based on the prototype set with Brian's 2004 release Brian Wilson's Smile wherein he attempted to recreate his long lost album with his touring band, The Wondermints. It was met with critical acclaim.
Also of note is that the outstanding 1991 Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set which featured many of the best previously unreleased tracks including Our Prayer, Wonderful, Do You Like Worms? and I Love To Say Da Da. Had these tracks never appeared the new Smile disc would be more significant.
Another shortcoming is that the original SMILE LP would have been a single disc. The 2011 release spans one and a half discs on vinyl. Itself proof that this is not the original SMILE.
From the many song fragments that exist it's easy to see how Brian might have been overwhelmed and lost his way building songs from numerous modular takes. The songs he did complete such as Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains are proof enough of his genius. A number of songs such as the majestic Surf's Up were released in the early '70s on various Beach Boys albums from original Smile-era recordings with new overdubs and mixes.
As it is SMILE is a great album and a must-have for any Beach Boys fan. Just hearing the songs in a comprehensive order with top-notch mono sound from the original tapes is priceless.
Revel in Smile for what it is rather than what it could have been because we will never know..
If you haven't already read the fabulous book, Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE!, you should. It's primarily media clippings from the period leading up to what would have been Smile's original release. It reminds us that The Beach Boys were neck-and-neck with The Beatles in terms of popularity and significance in the rock world.