Although this three-CD box set is entirely unauthorized, it holds the distinction of being the first arguably authoritative release to exclusively feature music that Brian Wilson and company were preparing for the album Smile, the Beach Boys' follow-up to Pet Sounds. Although the project was never completed, many of Wilson's brilliant fragments have been incorporated into other Beach Boys works -- mostly pre-1973 -- over the roughly 33 and one-third years separating the unfulfilled album and this wholly fulfilling multimedia project. Even at three full-length CDs, Unsurpassed Masters, Vol. 17 is woefully incomplete when attempting to corral all known recordings connected with Smile. However, what is presented here -- as has been the hallmark of this series -- is the flawless sound quality. The amazing aural presence that is re-created on this bootleg set rivals if not undeniably beats the same material as issued throughout the various box sets and compilations -- such as Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys and Hawthorne, CA. In the context of this box Wilson's passions can best be understood. Not just musical passion, but the life-force passion that drove him to this creative zenith. The intricate harmonic balance between the Wilson-arranged vocals and instrumentation borders on magic. If layer upon layer of sound fitting with jigsaw puzzle precision was Brian Wilson's goal, then the extended sessions for "Heroes and Villains," "Wind Chimes," "Vega-Tables," and especially "Wonderful" argue the fact that indeed much of Smile was already complete, albeit not compiled. Alas, here seems to lay the proverbial rub. Shorter musical "links" and even some of the spoken-word recordings have also been gathered on this box. Oft referred to but rarely heard tracks such as the "Bicycle Rider" theme, "Do You Like Worms," "Look," "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (aka "Fire"), and the "I Wanna Be Around"/ "Friday Night" medley are all amply represented. The set is capped off with the 22-minute "Vega-Tables Radio Spot Rehearsals" featuring Brian Wilson and percussionist extraordinaire Hal Blaine. The two are involved in trying to re-create an organic-sounding "man-on-the-street" type of scenario revolving around Wilson's quest for veggies. Heavily edited portions were included on the "Vegetables Promo" mock-up on the previously mentioned Hawthorne, CA. compilation of revisionist history. The packaging of this very special and equally limited box set is also worthy of mention. Original pressings include a mammoth 110-page booklet as well as an individually numbered (to 1,000) certificate. This volume has raised the bar immeasurably in regards to the quality and completeness of all Smile-related volumes -- bootleg or legit. It might take another 33-and-one-third-year revolution to find out.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
Track Listing - Disc 3