Let’s get something straight right off — “The Beach Boys’ “SMiLE Sessions” — out Oct. 31 in the UK, Nov. 1 in the States and also available in Canada and Japan — is not the “SMiLE” album as it would have been in 1967. As the booklet that comes with the album admits, there never was an original “SMiLE” to begin with.
What “The Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions” is is the original source material re-edited and sequenced until it met with Brian Wilson’s approval. It’s one step ahead of the pieced-together bootlegs in that “The Beach Boys’ ‘SMiLE Sessions'” is the most cohesive “SMiLE” bootleg there was and ever will be.
The first disc of the two-disc version contains what is approximately the finished album in mono plus some stereo extras. Disc 2 has more unreleased tracks, including deconstructions of “Heroes and Villains” and “Surf’s Up” and excerpts of sessions for “Good Vibrations.” Also included are a poster, button and a 32-page booklet. The two CDs have a nice touch with two different labels: the first has the Capitol Records rainbow, the second the Beach Boys Brother Records label.
All this is, to put it in a word, pretty stunning. On the bootlegs the tracks were like unassembled pieces of a puzzle. Here, Brian Wilson, Mark Linnett, Dennis Wolfe and Alan Boyd have created an almost seamless reconstruction of what was to be that never was. Collectors who heard the unfinished “SMiLE” bootlegs knew it was something special. This release certainly affirms that.
While we would have preferred keeping the “finished” album alone on one disc and the extra tracks separate, but other than that, it’s hard to complain. And like George Lucas likes to do with “Star Wars,” there are some minor changes that will probably provoke discussion, such as the short clip of “Our Prayer” at the beginning of “Good Vibrations.”
Of the extras, the highlights include Brian Wilson’s solo version of “Surf’s Up” on disc 1, the two-part seven-minute “Heroes and Villains” with the “In the cantina” chorus, the “Surf’s Up” stereo demo and eight minutes of “Good Vibrations” sessions in stereo on disc 2.
“SMiLE” contains elements that were miles ahead of what a lot of people, including the Beatles, were doing in 1967. One can only imagine how the landscape would have changed if “SMiLE” had come out when originally intended.
But we finally have it — or at least a close representation thereof . And there are several ways to get it. There are the 2-CD set, 2-disc vinyl and a nine-disc box set available through retailers. The Beach Boys website also has separate packages of the 2-CD set with a t-shirt ($39.99) and a Brian Wilson autographed lithograph ($99.99), an autographed box set in which the store light turns on ($699.99) and a combo of the light-up box and a Hobie surfboard ($5999.99, only 10 availble).
In any event, getting “The Beach Boys ‘SMiLE Sessions'” is closure.
And a reason to smile.
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