No, this isn't a finished version of the SMiLE album, though the digipack format does recreate the art from the original LP sleeve very nicely, and there are 75 minutes of material here from those sessions, including both fully formed tracks and various vocal and instrumental backing tracks and underscoring, all in excellent fidelity. Basically, this is an unedited presentation of the major portions of the SMiLE session tapes and, on one level, could be considered a sloppier presentation of the released portions. The ten-minute "Heroes and Villains Suite" seems a little like overkill, except that it has a majestic sweep that's missing from the released version of "Heroes and Villains," veering with surprising coherency into realms of classic '50s doo wop music, movie soundtrack, brief spoken word vignettes, and myriad other changes, with the officially released portions only a fraction of the total piece. As a psychedelic creation, it's spellbinding, but whether anyone -- accustomed to the neater, cleaner, more professionally assembled psychedelic works of the Beatles or the overtly spacier work of the Grateful Dead -- would have accepted this in 1967 is a real question. Similarly, the unedited version of "Child Is Father to the Man" and many of the other pieces that only showed up as fragments in the released portions of SMiLE are all of a fiercely experimental nature, much more so than their familiar, authorized versions, seemingly aimed at catching moods and states of mind rather than appealing directly to popular sensibilities. Even "Cabinessence" and "Surf's Up," which got out largely intact, are more ornate here in their vocals and instrumental embellishments. The Beach Boys' take on psychedelia was a surprisingly languid one, and also rooted in a peculiar musical nostalgia, making free use of old pop songs, show music, and other elements of seemingly mundane American life, but thoroughly adventurous within that framework -- sort of Spanky & Our Gang meets Charles Ives, all on acid. The results, across the 75 minutes of this CD, are often achingly beautiful (and just as often excruciatingly funny) musical sections, surrounded by digressions and meanderings that make listeners wonder if they're being had (they're not). Similarly, "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," the lost "Fire" section of the elemental suite from the proposed album, with its whistles, instrumental grunts and grinding, and relentless presentation of chaos, would surely have repelled audiences in 1967, regardless of how many interviews Brian Wilson or the other band members could have given, or how many explanatory articles had been published ahead of its release. In a post-'60s context, presented as a conceptual work in progress, it all holds together better than anyone could have hoped. Of course, it would be nice to see what could be done to officially assemble the full range of SMiLE tapes (it's for that kind of release that labels like Rhino Handmade exist), but this will do to whet the appetite until the powers that be decide (if they ever do) what to do with this body of music.
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