SMiLE AT LAST!
Review of The Beach Boys'
The Smile Sessions Box Set
It only took 44 years, but we know have an official version of The Beach Boys Smile with "The Smile Sessions", sanctioned by The Beach Boys Inc. With 40+ bootleg Smile CDs (not counting tons of "fan mixes") in my collection, I was definitely underwhelmed at the scant uncovered gems that the box set supplied. To pad out the "rarities", they had to delve into both pre-Smile and post-Smile recordings (as well as adding such non-Smile fluff as Dennis & Carl Wilson studio ramblings and a horrid Jasper Dailey song!). "Surf's Up 1967" is about the only great finds from the archives! Both "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard" have "flown In" vocals, giving them both a "Free As a Bird" feel, i.e. pieced together as best as could be done. However, they could have used Jeff Lynne’s expertise in the matter to at least make the songs sound decent.
However, the box set does put to rest one persistent myth - Smile was UNFINISHED - there was NOT just mixing left to do in 1967. So much for the, “album that would have beat Sgt. Pepper” myth. Maybe that's why the box set includes so much extraneous stuff – to pad out the set. And, the "recreation" of Smile at the beginning pales in comparison to 2004’s, “Brian Wilson Presents Smile”. It gives me more appreciation for “BWPS”, which now stands as the definitive statement on SMiLE.
Maybe the reason why they went "full-tilt" on the packaging was to make up for the lack of truly revelatory tracks. The marketing behind the box set is pure, crass, capitalism at its finest. If you are a true SMiLE fanatic, you will have to purchase THREE variations to have all the audio: The box set version, the 2-LP vinyl version, and the 2 CD version. And depending on the set you buy you also get: posters, a 60-page book buttons, a recreation of the original album booklet, etc. Then there is the $5999 version that comes with a custom Beach Boys surf board? A surf board for Smile? You've gotta be kidding! Another high-end version includes a light up Smile box and a signed lithograph. The vinyl version does not have the "Duophonic" label - so much for a historically accurate recreation of the vinyl album cover. If the Beatles had done this kind of marketing on a recent project, they would have been crucified in the press!
IF The Smile Sessions box set had been released in the '90s, it would be considered a classic. But as it was with the original Smile - timing is everything. Maybe it is just the fate of Smile.
The iconic words of Johnny Rotten best describe “The Beach Boys Smile Sessions”: "Ever feel like you've been cheated?" This longtime Smile-fanatic does!