Jesse Jarnow

one final smile…?

Well, it happened.

Somebody – specifically Tim Smolen – re-edited the ’60s tapes of Brian Wilson’s Smile into the order suggested by the version completed last year by Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and company. Smolen’s attention to detail is wonderful. The original recordings are used wherever possible, often to the last possible second before vocal parts from the Nonesuch edition make their entrances (such as on “Wonderful”).

Listening on headphones, everything has a slightly digitalized quality, the result of a ProTools mixdown, or perhaps even a layer of mp3, which is a little off-putting at first, but also provides a surprisingly level playing field for the sources. The pristine digital fidelity of the new Smile thus blends more easily with the high-generation fuzziness of the oft-bootlegged studio leaks.
I’m still a little miffed about the treatment of “Good Vibrations” on Smile 2004. I think the “original” lyrics that Wilson reverted to (presumably so he wouldn’t have to sing words penned by estranged cousin Mike Love?) are pretty lame. More, I think it makes for a horrific closer, and will be dead in my cold, cold grave before I recognize anything other than “Surf’s Up” as the proper ending to the suite. But, Smolen does some good work here.

For starters, he fuses the famous single recording with the earlier takes of the original lyrics and omits the clunker about “working on my brain.” The words are still kinda dumb, but – y’know what? – so is most of Pet Sounds and that’s still heartbreaking. At least on the original “Good Vibrations” recordings, Wilson sings the lyrics with such wide-eyed eyed California beauty that you can take ’em seriously. Sort of.

Smolen also fuses on the retarded false ending that Smile 2004 has (instead of the more graceful theramin fade-out), though makes up for it with the left-field inclusion of the near-a capella “You’re Welcome” – from 1968’s Wild Honey, and previously unconnected to the Smile sessions – as an “Our Prayer”-like coda to the album. “Of course! How obvious!” I thought, when I heard “You’re Welcome” fading in, that same amazed glee I experienced when I heard “Gee” fade out of “Our Prayer” for the first time.

As strange as it is to say this, I think Smile is really finished.

Weird.

see also:
Wouldn’t It Have Been NIce?, my February 2004 Smile feature for Salon.com.
Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, in the Winter 2005 edition of Signal To Noise, on newsstands now (not online).

Props to Tim Smolen for making the recording, and David Jay Brown for sending me the disc.

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