If you read a lot of music criticism about the ’60s, like I used to, you have heard about Smile ad nauseum. If you read a lot of independent music criticism at the turn of the century, like I used to, you have also heard about Smile ad nauseum. You’ve heard about Smile to the point that, whatever it was supposed to sound like, your expectations have been permanently set either to view it as an unfinished (later finished!) masterpiece, or the manifestation of a bunch of silly pop critic dreams for something “even greater than Pet Sounds” that couldn’t possibly ever be what was desired. (Fantasy is more powerful then reality.)
But I find myself not only surprised by the replacement record but downright shocked by it.
First of all it is, musically, much more ambitious (or at least more forward-thinking, if not ambitious) than Pet Sounds – it’s more radical, it’s more idiosyncratic, it’s way weirder, it’s also far less polished. It’s as if, between finishing “Good Vibrations” and trying to finish Smile, Brian Wilson didn’t have an emotional breakdown due to Sgt. Pepper but, rather, discovered Frank Zappa. (There’s a song about vegetables on this record. That can’t be a coincidence.)
The shocking thing about it is how low fi it is. If it hadn’t been made by a group supported by members of The Wrecking Crew, I’d say it was the first ever “bedroom pop” record. Seriously, so much indie pop from the 21st century sounds like it was inspired by this.
There are too many unfinished ideas, “Good Vibrations” doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the music, and Zappa and the Mothers are way funnier than The Beach Boys but, on the whole, I like this more than Pet Sounds. Don’t get me wrong, Pet Sounds is the superior record, but this is way weirder and way, way more fun than the previous album.
Just zany. And, I suspect, much more up my alley than whatever the hell Brian Wilson eventually decided to release as the completed “Smile.”