The dashed hopes of Smile resurfaced in the might-have-beens of Smiley Smile, and though the album provoked disappointment when first released, over the years its sense of anticlimax has been burnished into a warm glow. It does contain (Brian Wilson originally objected to this) the song that will forever shadow Pet Sounds: “Good Vibrations,” capturing the auditory feel of life-in-motion in the same way Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” recreated the sound of skyscraper America; and rerecorded sparser versions of songs meant for Smile: “Vegetables,” “Wonderful” and “Wind Chimes.” Though the Smile versions are more fully fleshed, I admit to a preferred affection for these original cuts that I heard without spoiler-alert comparison, and like the fact that the essences of the songs shine through in all their unvarnished wackiness and compassion. Another Smile fragment is the delightful “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony),” which shows Wilson’s indebtedness to animated soundtrack and effect.
The Beach Boys were suffering an identity crisis of no mean proportion, cancelling out of the Monterey Pop Festival in a year when Brian’s aspirations might have given them a new, hipper audience. This recording reasserts the primacy of the group, perhaps out of necessity since Brian seemed increasingly unable to provide leadership or even musical guidance.