Capital Records, 1967
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/26/2005
One thing I cannot stand is hearing about is "what coulda been." What is that, you ask? Well, the other day I found out that there had been a possibility I could have ended up with my grandparents' Buick Regal, but it didn't happen. Another time I found out my parents had tried to send me out to California to see an Elton John tribute concert, but they couldn't find a flight.
In both cases, I would have been much happier had I not been told these things could have happened, therefore spared wondering "what coulda been."
Smiley Smile is essentially a collection of outtakes and snippets from Brian Wilson's unreleased masterpiece SMiLE. For years, Smiley Smile was as close as Beach Boys fans could get to SMiLE; that is, until Wilson released his own version of the album last year. Unfortunately, the release of SMiLE shines a glaring light on the faults and hypocrisies of Smiley Smile itself. In other words, the ultimate "what coulda been" came true.
The saving grace of Smiley Smile comes with the inclusion of "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes And Villains." Quite possibly the best two tracks of Brian Wilson's career, their complexity and strong sense of melody somehow meld to forge the definition of avant-garde pop music, of which SMiLE was to be, and what Pet Sounds was ("Heroes And Villains was one of the major works from the SMiLE sessions).
Unfortunately, the rest of Smiley Smile happens to consist of half-baked, half-assed efforts from The Beach Boys sans Brian Wilson. What were stirring, intricate songs are turned into bare bones, vacuous noises. For god's sake, the first half of "Wind Chimes" is more spoken word than pop music. "Wonderful," is completely ruined by a Carl Wilson's breathy, wimpy vocals. And If I wanted two and a half minutes of nonsensical, twenty-seconds bits of organ and ukulele, punctuated by laughing Beach Boys well I'd…actually, I've never heard anything quite like it, so there is no reference point.
If one were to read my past Beach Boy reviews, it'd be apparent I have nothing but the utmost respect for their group harmonies. I contend they are the best of any band ever to grace pop music. Well, Smiley Smile has actually done damage to that respect. Sure it isn't all hit and miss; "With Me Tonight" is a decent a cappella effort that manages to recapture some past glory. But any average group could have turned out "Little Pad," "She's Goin Bald," "Wind Chimes," "Wonderful" and "Whistle In."
In the end, what really ruins Smiley Smile for me is this. The Beach Boys put out this dreck because they thought SMiLE was too weird, too experimental. They turned down an absolute masterpiece and released this. You know, if SMiLE had never come out, maybe my opinion of this record would have been different. Fans in the '60s must have heard this record and speculated how good SMiLE would have been. However, with the release of the ultimate "what coulda been," Smiley Smile invokes no such feelings anymore. It is just a poor excuse for an album.