At Long Last, A MasterpieceBy Bill DeMain
For the past three decades, SMiLE has been pop music's version of
If you've ever read a music magazines, chances are you've seen the glowing "bootleg" reviews for this record, saying that had it been released, it would've made Sgt. Pepper look pale by comparison. Now that it's finally here, it's entirely possible that those early, hopeful reviews were in fact too modest.
SMiLE is a masterpiece. It's complex and challenging. It's brave and outrageous. And it's unlike anything you've ever heard before, or will likely hear again. I was musing on possible new genre handles to describe it -- Surficana, Barbershop 'n' Roll, Pioneer Jazz, Mod-eville -- but really, it's a record that's just more far-reaching than any artificial labels.
While bootleg versions of SMiLE have existed for years, they only hinted at the grandeur, sounding scattered and disparate. What was missing was the proper song sequence. Imagine trying to read Great Expectations with the chapters out of order.
With the help of
These songs make me proud to be American, and I don't mean that in a flag-waving, jingoistic sense. But they have that same rousing spirit as a lot of Aaron Copland's best work, conjuring up the inspiring geography of our country: mountains, rivers, and wide open spaces under gigantic skies.
Beyond the triumph of rescuing his lost album, this is a huge personal victory for Brian Wilson. It long represented his downfall, a kind of cruel undoing by demons and drugs. By returning to his pivotal moment, he's rewritten his own history. And you can hear it in the youthful surge in his voice. This is clearly Brian Wilson's finest moment, captured, and set free, at last.