Monday, 2 May 2016

"The Smile Sessions" by THE BEACH BOYS (2011 Capitol '2CD' Mini Box Set Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...






"...Giving Me Excitations..."

Although I think the never-released Beach Boy's LP "Smile" is a victim of gross over-importance by historical revisionists (there's an awful lot of meandering faff on here – segments rather than actual songs) – on the evidence presented in this sweet sounding mini box set – there's an actual album lurking about in there somewhere. God only knows - but let's go try and find it...

UK released 31 October 2011 (November 2011 in the USA) – "The Smile Sessions" by THE BEACH BOYS on Capitol 5099902766324 (Barcode the same) is a 2 x HDCD Mini Box Set with a 36-Page Booklet, 15" x 20" Fold-Out Poster and a 'Smile' Button. It plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (79:20 minutes):
1. Our Prayer
2. Gee
3. Heroes And Villains
4. Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)
5. I'm In Great Shape
6. Barnyard
7. My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine)
8. Cabin Essence
9. Wonderful
10. Look (Song For Children)
11. Child Is Father Of The Man
12. Surf's Up
13. I Wanna Be Around/Workshop
14. Vega-Tables
15. Holidays
16. Wind Chimes
17. The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O'Leary's Cow)
18. Love To Say Dada
19. Good Vibrations

BONUS TRACKS:
20. You're Welcome
21. Heroes And Villains (Stereo Mix)
22. Heroes And Villains Sections (Stereo Mix)
23. Vega-Tables Demo
24. He Gives Speeches
25. Smile Backing Vocals Montage
26. Surf's Up 1967 (Solo Version)
27. Psycodelic Sounds – Brian Falls Into A Piano

Disc 2 (64:06 minutes):
1. Our Prayer "Dialogue" (9/19/66)
2. Heroes And Villains (Part 1)
3. Heroes And Villains (Part 2)
4. Heroes And Villains: Children Were Raised (1/27/67)
5. Heroes And Villains: Prelude To Fade (2/15/67)
6. My Only Sunshine (11/14/66)
7. Cabin Essence (10/3/66)
8. Surf's Up: 1st Movement (11/4/66)
9. Surf's Up: Piano Demo (12/15/66)
10. Vega-Tables: Fade (4/12/67)
11. The Elements: Fire Session (11/28/66)
12. Cool, Cool Water Version 2 (10/26-10/29/67)
13. Good Vibrations Session Highlights

Some have moaned about the hard card sleeves inside housing the 2 CDs (put the discs in protective plastics) – I think they look and feel great. I also love the way Capitol have given the "Smile" album that Capitol T 2580 catalogue number and what would have approximated its probable artwork (even if the track list on the rear is confusing). You certainly can't complain either about a near 80-minute playing time on Disc 1. The 36-page booklet is a chunky affair offering Brian Wilson's "Music is God's Voice" liner notes at the beginning - followed by some vacuous assessment of "Smile" by Tom Nolan which goes into 'myth' and 'artefact' babble. There's a plethora of period colour photos followed by lyrics for everything and detailed notes on the tortuous transfer process by compilation producers MARK LINETT, ALAN BOYD and DENNIS WOLFE. They explain that digital editing has now allowed Capitol to 'splice' the album together making sense of Brian Wilson's 'modules' of music (as he liked to call them).

The AUDIO is fabulous – Mixed and Mastered by MARK LINETT at 'Your Place Or Mine Recording' in Glendale, California (edited by ALAN BOYD). This is as clean and vibrant as I've ever heard this much bootlegged material - and the bare piano demo of "Surf's Up" on Disc 2 is a stupendous remaster.

It opens with what could only be track one – the beautiful Acapella "Our Prayer" – one minute and five seconds of gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies – like an opening salvo to a masterpiece. Personally I sequenced "Surf's Up" (which I would have called 'Brother John') next – surely one of the truly great finished songs on "Smile". Equally brill and complicated is the 4:52 minute version of the mammoth "Heroes And Villains". I personally like to follow that with the monk-like chant of "Love To Say Dada". I also dig the pretty clavinet 60ts feel to "Wonderful". And of course we then get the big one – "Good Vibrations". Having grown up like everyone else with the October 1966 seven-inch single mix at 3:59 minutes – how weird is it to hear this altered supposed 'full album version' at 4:15 minutes. It's good – but not nearly as sharp as the 45 released version. I know it only adds about 20-seconds but it actually lessens the song in my books – the single mix was tighter and more extraordinary. This version feels more of a meander – like too many of the album segments did. "Cabin Essence" is pretty as he sings "...I'll give you a home on the range..." and then goes off into yet another tempo change. Other faves include "Plymouth Rock" and "Look (Song For Children)" and the piano-cha-cha of "Child Is Father Of The Man" – brilliant piano breaks with a trombone sailing in over it (gorgeous Bass sound too). Stuff like "I'm In Great Shape" and "Barnyard" at 28 and 48 seconds are nonsense ditties to me but the string arrangements given to "You Are My Sunshine" are beautiful as are the heavy-vibe vocals.

In some respects I actually enjoy Disc 2 more than 1. The dialogue featured in almost every song here gives you insight into their process - for instance one band member clearly feels "Our Prayer" is an ideal opening song while the other only feels it’s an intro to a song. Part 3 of "Heroes And Villains" is the 'ba boom' part that they've called "Children Are Raised" with the boys discussing being in Japan as they get the harmonies right. The "First Movement" of "Surf's Up" will thrill fans as they work out what many consider (outside of "Good Vibrations") to be the album's central masterpiece. It opens with piano and guitar and feels magical. Moving on - I experimented with iTunes edit on "Cool, Cool Water" starting it at 1:32.5. It gives the song that beautifully produced vocal intro (what a finished tune this would have made). The 8:19 minutes of the "Good Vibrations" Session Highlights is the stuff of legend - Brian breaking it down time and time again until they get it right. "OK - here we go - play hard and strong..." he directs - and they do. And those bits around 3:35 that aren't in the final mix - wow...

Frustrating, magical, unfinished business with too much time passed – "Smile" is all of these things and more. "The Most Anticipated Album In Rock 'n' Roll History" the outer sticker screams. Maybe so - but I still don't know if it's the great lost meisterwork everyone latterly claims it is. The true Beach Boys nutter can of course go after the 5CD full-on 'immersion' experience. But in the mean time – we mere mortals and musical Neanderthals can settle for this beautifully presented reissue – now with best ever Audio.

"...The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne..." – Brian Wilson sings on the gorgeous and unadorned Take 1 Piano Demo of "Surf's Up" on Disc 2. After all this time – don't those prophetic lyrics still ring true about this troubled slice of genius...

PS: Time to get really contentious - here's my version of the "Smile" LP by THE BEACH BOYS on Capitol T 2580
Side 1:
1. Our Prayer
2. Surf's Up [credited as "Brother John"]
3. Heroes And Villains
4. Love To Say Dada
5. Wonderful
6. Good Vibrations

Side 2:
1. Cool, Cool Water [Edit at 1:32.5]
2. Child Is Father Of The Man
3. Cabin Essence
4. Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock) [as "Plymouth Rock"]
5. Vega-Tables
6. Wind Chimes
7. Look (Song For Children)

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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