Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Countdown to Ecstacy: The Day After

It's here. It's out. And I've heard it. (As have many, many other people by this point--hopefully enough for a Billboard chart position, since that sort of thing used to matter a great deal to Mr. Wilson.)

I'm not normally big on buying an album or seeing a movie the day it comes out--I can only recall Radiohead's Hail to the Thief as an exception--but after hearing about the great unfinished Smile since high school 25 years ago and wondering what it would sound like, I had to do it this time. Guess the impulse was akin to all my friends who wanted to see Fahrenheit 911 on opening weekend as a political/commercial statement. (Better living through shopping: always a dangerous notion.)

But I digress: on to the album, which is getting only its second playing in my home as I type. And round two is even more powerful than the first listen, now that the initial surprise about song sequence and new lyrics is over and I see how the whole thing flows.

So "Surf's Up" is not the great emotional climax of the album (more like its centerpiece); "Good Vibrations," of all things, is instead. I never really believed that GV belonged here in the first place; that it was simply the most recent single, which industry concerns would stick on the next available album. Sort of like "Sloop John B" in the middle of Pet Sounds: different lyricist (and lyrical style), major interruption of the flow. But lo and behold, it works here, particularly thanks to the reprise of "Our Prayer" immediately before it. (BTW, if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about here, I apologize--and encourage you to race out and get your own copy of Smile. Trust me: if you're interested in any of the genres of music I normally discuss here--Brazilian, experimental, electronic, pop standards, etc.--you'll find something to connect with in the album.)

There's so much here--both in the recording itself, and in this newest chapter of the legend which has built up around it--that I couldn't begin to cover it all in one post. Plus I have to get to work. So I'll just spew a little love and exhiliration and hope to return to the subject later.

Speaking of getting to work, here's an interesting thread on a Smile message board regarding the plight of all those people (like me) who have assembled their own versions of the album from fragments over the years, and particularly those who have never finished theirs. Is the Wilson 2004 version now the last word on the subject, or is there room for further tinkering?

No matter: this "new" album is stunning, well worth the 37-year wait.

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