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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Brian Wilson

Rating: 9/10 ?

October 27, 2004
I am pleased to announce the winner of the Album I'd Least Like to Review award for 2004: Brian Wilson's SMiLE.

Man, what a long strange trip it's been for this album; how much can you really say about it in a review? Although one of my automobiles was born in 1966, the same year that SMiLE came into the mind of fledgling pop-Beethoven Brian Wilson, I wouldn't be born for another decade. From the time that Wilson and co-songwriter Van Dyke Parks first envisioned the outlines of SMiLE until now, when it has seen the light of day, a lot has gone on. Back then Wilson was under immense pressure to follow up the Beach Boys' legendary Pet Sounds, arguably one of music's true touchstones and unquestionably the American response to the Beatles, arguably music's greatest entity. Drugs were certainly a factor in the shelving of SMiLE - although few are willing to credit them with a large part of the album's original character - but the loss of this album for nearly forty years is much more than that. SMiLE is perhaps the most potent and appropriate metaphor for personal growth and social change that pop music has ever produced, a child of social experimentation and free-floating concepts aborted by a masculine, militaristic, neo-colonial super power teetering on the verge of implosion, only to resurface generations later and triumph remarkably in a remarkably similar social climate.

When SMiLE came about, the United States was stuck in an ill-advised, ill-planned and ill-fated foreign conquest. Minorities were fighting for their rights as equal human beings. Everyone was shitting bricks over the impending global chaos that idealism and global weaponry had pushed to the breaking point. In 1967 it was Vietnam, blacks, and Russian warheads that had otherwise sane Americans cowering behind the nearest hate mongering cowboy they could find. Back then it was riots, the National Guard, and concrete bunkers in the backyard. Today, as SMiLE finally shatters the brilliance of the fable that its story had become, the United States is stuck in an ill-advised, ill-planned and ill-fated foreign conquest. Minorities are fighting for their rights as equal human beings. Everyone is shitting bricks over the impending global chaos that idealism and global weaponry had pushed to the breaking point. In 2004 it is Iraq, gays, and dirty bombs. Now it is protests rather than riots and concrete bunkers have been replaced with plastic sheeting and duct tape, and I suppose the National Guard still fits in there as well.

It is funny how things never seem to change, even when they have. In 1967 we hadn't been to the moon; today we're studying the surface of Mars and the moons of Jupiter. But, for all its worth, people are just as divided and scared today as they were then, if not more so, only in a different way. SMiLE is remarkably much the same way, with one difference: where the American political machine fails look back on its mistakes and come to terms with them, Brian Wilson has succeeded. Over the years the legend of SMiLE had grown to a point un-eclipsed by any other album. The classics by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Nirvana have all been gone through with fine toothed combs, and although they still stand as testaments to their time, there is little of the first-time magic left in them. SMiLE, on the other hand, is like the child stillborn, praised in the endless anticipation of what might have been, an always burning light in the sky to dream upon. Ten, twenty, even thirty years ago the story of the album had likely eclipsed the weight that the album would have carried if issued as planned in 1967. There was little impetus, if any, for Wilson to release the album four decades on, as it was already in the pantheon of greats.

That anticipation of the unattainable, the nervousness of imaging hearing the album some day, led directly to SMiLE being perhaps one of the biggest letdowns of my life. Although SMiLE is still an excellent album, it buckled slightly to the weight of its own legend before anyone could even hear it. When I first heard that Wilson was planning to finish it, I could scarcely believe what I was hearing, and it took me a while to realize that a release of the album now would certainly be paraphrasing of the original. I'd much prefer to hear what was actually in Wilson's head so long ago, rather than this later-in-life interpretation of it, but I'm cool with that now. SMiLE is still a very enjoyable listen that deserves its due, if not for the new gems like "Wind Chimes" and "Barnyard" and the excellent instrumental "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (oh man, to have heard that in its purest form from 1967...) then for the three reclaimed songs - "Surf's Up," "Cabinessence," "Our Prayer" - that were re-worked and released on subsequent Beach Boys albums in the '70s. Top those off with fleshed-out versions of "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations" - two tracks which would see release on box sets and compilations in forms that do not do SMiLE's versions justice - and you've got one of the best albums of all time finally let out of its cage. And, either way, it's still one of the best albums of 2004.

In all honesty, there really is too much to SMiLE to aptly describe in a review (like the way the last three tracks - "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," "In Blue Hawaii," "Good Vibrations" - just melt into each other), and the power of an album of its magnitude really makes a person like me appreciate how truly meaningless record reviews are. Peace and hope, on the other hand, are not meaningless. I can only hope that the fruition of SMiLE says something to the lost generation of the 1960s; something about hope and acceptance and self-evaluation that will deter them from losing the generation of the 2000s the way they themselves were lost from their parents. I hope they can pick up on these good vibrations.

Reviewed by Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other reviews by Eric J Herboth



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