It's Finally Here!
The 2004 SMiLE CD
Review by Ronnie

When I first heard that Brian Wilson was going to do a SMiLE tour I was elated! I was totally blown away by seeing him do Pet Sounds live and was equally excited about seeing SMiLE live. But unlike Pet sounds, SMiLE was an unreleased album - so the anticipation of hearing the missing gaps was almost too much.

Then I started to wonder...does this mean that there would be an official release of SMiLE? Or would there be a live album like he released for Pet Sounds. Over the months until the official news finally came there was wild speculation in Smile-land: would there finally be the official box set like there was for the Pet Sounds sessions? Would there be a live album? Finally the news came - Brian would release a totally "new" version of SMiLE using his current band (including, but not entirely the Wondermints). This started a whole new debate amongst the " SMiLE -purists". how could new versions possibly compare to the original session tapes? Would Brian's voice do justice to the new versions? SMiLE -purists scoffed at the idea of a newly recorded Smile - to them it was just sacrilegious.

But then, recordings of Brian's first few live SMiLE shows from February of 2004 began appearing on the internet. And you know what? After hearing the live versions, I came to believe that Brian could actually pull it off, recording a new version! Especially with Darian Sahanaja as ‘musical scribe’, helping Brian compile the project. Sure, it wouldn't be the SMiLE of 1967, but I was at least willing to give it a chance. I'm not anal enough to demand a "new" SMiLE using only original 66-67 source tapes. Besides, the original SMiLE was UNFINISHED, which would have made a "finished" version ludicrous.

The track listing for SMiLE 2004 also has a few changes that had some of the Smile purists in a tizzy - namely the re-naming of some of the standard songs. Gone is “Do You Like Worms” and “Love to Say Da Da” - in their place are “Roll Plymouth Rock” and “In Blue Hawaii”, respectively.

To me a re-recorded SMiLE makes more sense that fiddling with the original tapes. We've recently seen what happens when you "fuck with the formula" (to use a Mike Love-ism) and bastardize old tapes: the fiasco that is LET IT BE NAKED. LIBN was both an insult to the established fans and an outright lie to new fans who think they are getting the "real deal". I for one am glad that Brian has released a new recording SMiLE and not simply releasing a live album. To me it will bring closure & finality to the SMiLE saga. Brian realizes that it is not 1967 anymore - too bad some folks can't (or won't) grasp that fact.

It is also worth noting the packaging for the 2004 SMiLE. Gone are the original Frank Holmes cover artwork and booklet illustrations. For a disc as historically important as SMiLE we get new artwork that is equally excellent by Mark London, who perfectly captures the “Americana” theme in his art.

Brian Wilson,"SMiLE" (Nonesuch Records)

Brian Wilson has done what no other rock artist has been able to do – turn back the hands of time and finish what some consider his greatest work, a little unreleased album from 1967 called “SMiLE”. But rather than use the unfinished tapes from the ‘60s, Wilson took a brave step forward and re-recorded the WHOLE thing! That’s right, a brand new SMiLE. Talk about some big cajones! In August of 2000, Brian promised, “when the time is right, I will do right by Smile.” And that is just what he’s done!

So, with all this said - what do I think of SMiLE 2004? I'm totally blown away - I would never have imagined that SMiLE would sound so full and complete! Sonically, I have NO complaints about this CD, the sound perfectly captures that '60s-style of production, whilst giving the pristine sound that this classic deserves. My main fear about a "new" SMiLE was Brian's voice - would he be up for it? Well, he comes through in flying colors, no doubt the stronger voice that he has developed from the (recent) years of constant touring.

Here’s my quick rundown of the tracks:
“Our Prayer” is flawless, using the 20/20 version. After hearing the bootleg versions of the live concert, it was surprising to hear “Gee” with scratchy old-vinyl sounds. When it comes to “Heroes and Villains”, I actually prefer the “new” version to the 1967 single release. “Roll Plymouth Rock” is amazing to hear with all the previously missing vocals. There are no real surprises in “Barnyard”, “Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine” & “Cabin Essence” (although it is great to hear some previously bootleg version in glorious stereo!). “Wonderful” is the song that had me worried when I first heard of the new SMiLE – it has such a delicate vocal that I wasn’t sure that Brian could pull it off. Well, he does! The first of the “mystery” tracks of SMiLE is “Song For Children”, which uses the melody of the SMiLE bootleg track “Look”. It segues perfectly into “Child Is Father Of The Man”. Again, Brian pulls off flawless vocals on “Surf’s Up” (the only other track that I was worried about vocally). The second of the “mystery” tracks is “I’m In Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop” – SMiLE enthusiasts finally get to see how these three fit together! “Vega-Tables” offers no real surprises to the familiar version, although the sounds effects are different. Using an old track (“Holidays”) with new lyrics, “On A Holiday” is a real joy, complete with an “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” megaphone bit. The flawless “Wind Chimes” follows, again with no real surprises.

Then comes the song I had been waiting for - “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” is my favorite headphones track on this CD – hearing the vocals mixed with the instruments is truly magical, even spooky! Using the old “Love To Say Da Da” melody with new lyrics, “In Blue Hawaii” perfectly captures the Hawaii motif that is in some of the lyrics of the other songs. That brings me to another point – this album REALLY works as a complete unit, with sections of other songs appearing in other songs, whirling the themes of SMiLE into a real psychedelic concept album (No, I don’t really buy the idea of the 2004 SMiLE being a “rock opera”. Finally, there is “Good Vibrations”. I can’t tell you how many people (that weren’t really Brian Wilson fanatics) told me about the “new” lyrics to “Good Vibrations”! No, these aren’t new, they incorporate the ORIGINAL lyrics (which date back to the PET SOUNDS sessions), which is indeed fitting.

There are usually no “second chances” in rock ‘n roll, but Brian Wilson has beaten the odds and delivered…albeit 37 years late…a majestic, magical triumph!

Rating for this release:

Our rating system:

Almost perfect...
Moments of brilliance...
Slightly redeaming...
Worthless piece of $#%@...
Extremely BAD! Should be illegal to possess...