The Beach Boys' SMiLE album has received many a hyperbole since it's non-release in 1967 and may now most justly deserve "Greatest Anti-climax" status with it latest reissue. But the fact of the matter is, sorting through the various segments for a discerning overall picture of the album as it was originally conceived by Brian Wilson may indeed reveal this to be as much (or perhaps more?) of a psychedelic landmark as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper or Jimi Hendrix' Are You Experienced?
The SMiLE Sessions preserves and expands upon the music and the lore that's grown up around the original album in various ways -- from the cartoon-like cover art (an almost subliminal thread of which runs through the lyrics of Van Dyke Parks) on the mini-box of the two cd set to the graphics on the cd sleeves. On to the replication of the old Capitol Records label on the cd's themselves, there's an attention to detail any collector would love.
As a result, the project radiates an air of respect due to a work that, ahead of its time at the time, would've radically altered the public's perception of The Beach Boys. And it goes without saying, it would've extended the reputation of genius in residence Brian Wilson who garnered artistic adulation and commercial success from 1966's Pet Sounds. With forty-five years retrospect, SMiLE sounds like a very natural extension indeed of the album The Beatles' Paul McCartney so admired. Certainly the extended orchestral sections, sans vocals as well as the customary guitars/bass/keyboards/drums instrumentation of pop records, realigns the Beach Boys as a band in relation to the orchestral arrangements and thematic suite as originally conceived by Wilson and Parks. But perhaps no more so than did "Strawberry Fields Forever" for The Beatles as a precursor to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
If The SMiLE Sessions proves (or reaffirms?) anything, it is that, had it been released on its initial timeline, it would've potentially stolen the thunder of that epochal release by the British icons. Whether the Beach Boys and Wilson's artistic aims would've translated into sales success is moot, because the reconfiguration of their sound would've caused more than a little puzzlement in the mainstream public. Recurrence of the "Good Vibrations" melodic motif in "Look (Song for Children)" emphasizes the continuity of the larger piece (roughly an hour in length here) but also the apparent diminution of the Beach Boys' vocal expertise: in contrast, that's taken to new lengths and new heights in "Our Prayer" and "Gee" as those tracks open the piece preceding "Heroes & Villains" (which appears in an extended version of the by-now familiar single). Along with the bonus tracks on disc one, the fourteen cuts on the second disc of the set mirror and complement the sequence, compiled by Wilson himself, Mark Linett and others, at the beginning of the set.
The SMiLE Sessions does provide justice to author's vision as well as the ambition of the times. Its release will certainly fan the flames of debate about whether it's true to what the composer envisioned, but there's no question it's provocative listening on its own terms and as an evocation of its era.