Brian Wilson enlisted Van Dyke Parks as his collaborator for SMiLE, the follow-up to the Beach Boys' groundbreaking album Pet Sounds. One single, "Heroes and Villains," was released from the sessions and became a hit, but the rest of the album remained on the shelves. Over the years, the legend of SMiLE continued to grow, as bootlegs circulated and selected songs were recorded by the Beach Boys (including "Sail on Sailor," from 1973's Holland). Parks and Wilson didn't work again until 1995, nearly 30 years after the SMiLE sessions. However, the resulting album, Orange Crate Art, isn't quite a collaboration -- it's a collection of Parks songs as sung by Wilson. And that is the major flaw in the project. Van Dyke Parks' approach is intellectual, not instinctual, which means his compositions are over-labored and overwrought. Instead of making his melodies catchy, Parks makes sure they are complex, which means they are rarely memorable. Similarly, his lyrics are dense and laden with poetic imagery and metaphors, yet they are entirely too cerebral for a pop album. Then again, Orange Crate Art isn't a pop album -- it's a self-conscious work of art. Parks may have set his sights high, but neither his music or lyrics fulfill his ambitions. For that matter, neither do Brian Wilson's vocals. On each track, he manages to pull of a couple of nice, sweet lines, but he often sounds forced and reedy, and he never breathes life into the still-born material. For such a long wait, Orange Crate Art proves quite disappointing.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine