If you had told me ten years ago that storied rock casualty Brian Wilson would complete his legendary SMILE project (abandoned in 1967!) and that it would become my favorite CD, I would have said you were as crazy as Brian Wilson himself.( If you had told me twenty years ago, I would have said, "What's a 'CD?'" )Yet here I am, more than a year after purchasing said music and I find myself enjoying it more than ever. Turns out that Brian may not have been so much a casualty as a late bloomer!
Brian Wilson's legendary mental problems make it hard to imagine sometimes that he's still with us at all. Certainly ahead of his time back in the day, I'm not even sure that SMILE would have gone over all that well if it actually had been completed at the time. Originally described by Wilson as a "teenage symphony to God," this music, in spite of its pop roots, is one man's vision, not Beach Boys music. Mike Love knew that even then and that's why he rebelled against it. Brian, to put it simply, went sadly nuts and despite various comebacks was never really Brian Wilson again. One listen to even his best solo albums of recent years, reveals a man who's a shadow of his former self. Lurking under the surface, though, there was always something else and that something was and is SMILE.
Imagine being in the best Beach Boys cover band of all time and then convincing Brian Wilson himself, all but abandoned by the music industry, to be your lead singer. That's essentially what Darian Sahanaja of the group, the Wondermints, did. And then, little by little, he convinced Brian to tour with PET SOUNDS LIVE, then finally to reconnect with his long lost SMILE. Van Dyke Parks returned to polish lyrics and the whole piece came together much more professionally than it ever could have if the Beach Boys had been involved. The Wondermints are amazing.
The music is soaring. It's nostalgic and yet timeless; it's pop and yet classically influenced. By nobody's definition is it surf music. Some listeners complained that the originals were better. Well, guess what? For all intents and purposes, since many of the originals were never officially released--and certainly not in their intended final form--these now ARE the originals...and after my umpteenth listening last evening, they really make me want to smile!