44 years ago, Brian Wilson was due to deliver his masterpiece, his follow-up to the phenomenal Pet Sounds, and the album that would blow Sgt Pepper out of the water. But instead, SMiLE became the straw that broke the camel’s back for Wilson and the Beach Boys, sending both into freefall. It had been a hugely ambitious album and one that deeply divided the band while it was being recorded, not that you’d know that from some of their more recent comments about it.
Over the years it has gained an even greater reputation from the snippets that emerged on later albums and box-sets, so presumably it’s fantastic news that Capitol have announced that The SMiLE Sessions will be finally released later this year? Well, yes and no.
For one thing, the album was recorded again and released by Wilson seven years ago to great critical acclaim. It may not have been the Beach Boys and it was hard to say for certain that it was exactly how the original album was intended to sound after so much time and so many personal problems, but its release was a hugely significant achievement for him given its background.
So, having now heard SMiLE as a cohesive body of work, do we need a two-disc set of recordings from the original sessions? Maybe we do, after all the Pet Sounds Sessions box-set is a fantastic and intriguing collection and insight into the making of that album. But then again, do we really need to hear the recording sessions that effectively broke one of the 20th Century’s greatest musical geniuses?
Mike Love thinks we do, saying “Cousin Brian was at his creative peak during those sessions. I’m unaware of anything that comes close in pop music.” Of course, that’s not exactly what he was saying at the time, calling Good Vibrations “avant garde shit”. He also wasn’t too keen on Wilson’s 2004 release, or at least the promotion of it, and sued his cousin for several million dollars. The case was thrown out of court.
It’s against that kind of background that The SMiLE Sessions comes out. There’s lots of bootlegs out there for fans who want to hear these sessions, and there’s Brian’s finished version, which is as close to perfection as the original could ever have been. But will I still get this when it gets released? Of course I bloody will…