Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Brian Wilson's Smile is so, so, SO not the album of the year it isn't funny, but it is really good--a lot better than it has any right to be, really, and that's even if you take away all the attendant hype. Oh, who am I kidding--this is the most impossible-to-hear-through-the-hype album ever made, because aside from loads of outtakes, hype is all it's really ever been. I've always liked Paul Williams' contention that the 31 minutes' of stuff on disc two of the Good Vibrations box set--he called it "Child of Smile"--worked just fine as an alternate version, and that's probably better than this, though I haven't (yet) A-B'ed them. But the fact is that this kind of thing has been done by loads of people subsequently--it's at the root of all sampladelic albums, and indeed the Avalanches' Since I Left You sounds like its culmination to me. In fact, I'd say the Avalanches made not just the modern equivalent of Smile, they made the album Smile was always meant to be, minus the Americana and vocal-chorale stuff, or at least their more overt aspects. Instead we get beats and pan-global partyism, which I'm at least as down for, probably more.

Nevertheless, I like this new version of Smile a lot, not least because Wilson's falsetto remains intact (his midrange is iffier, but even that's surprisingly together, and once the surprise recedes it can still stand up to the material and/or other voices in the ensemble), but because the sound of it fits--it's a bit beefier than it would have been in '67, which is fine--and because finally, FINALLY, there is a decently recorded version of "Surf's Up." The version on the 1971 album of that title is damn near unlistenable (as is the album as a whole) thanks to the find-your-way-out murk of the production, but here it's both dark and clear, and that first soprano (?) harmony on "Columnated ruins domino" ranks with the most heart-stopping things I've heard this year.

So, yay, it's done, and it's good. Now let's move on, shall we?