Review of SMiLE by Brian Wilson
Drifted, trance-like, as though I were in “the zone”, over to French lessons and answered more questions from the shooting script of Cocteau’s Orphée.
Meanwhile, back at home, the SMiLE album was nestling in the black mailbox (having been lost in the post for 37 years) - rescued it on my return, marvelling at the intricate adorning artwork and booklet, reminiscent of the little boxes of Joseph Cornell (as Sooty pointed out) in design and fragility.
Waited until I was in a suitable state of grace (i.e. after sweeping up the fallen leaves in the back garden) and then sat down, cracked open a bottle of red (as per Lucy’s instructions) and listened to the completed album for the first time.
For once, I’m lost for words.
As track dovetailed into track, I soon became aware of the culminative power of these songs seamlessly threaded together; yet retaining that delicate gossamer-like thread on tracks like Wonderful.
Wilson’s claim that he was writing a “teenage symphony to God” (or at least the way God was behaving in 1966) turns out to be NOT an exaggeration. Remotely.
The ’cellos on Heroes and Villains, the fine-toothed attention to detail on barely-audible components (in the final mix) of Cabin Essence; the gravity-defying string arrangement on Child Is Father of the Man. The complex harmonies that can still stun at 30 paces, the “cornucopia” restorations in Vega-Tables; Van Dyke Parks acknowledging the bootleggers with the pirates in On A Holiday - très amusant, my dear. And, lest we forget, the whispering winds…
The ferocity of Mrs O’Leary’s Cow convinces me that THAT is the one that should be #4 on the indie charts! Cooled by the ensuing Water Chant, once known behind closed doors as Love to say Da Da, and now placed within the garlanded frame of In Blue Hawaii - liquescent, shapeshifting… Of course, some will say that it’s all too obscure, others that it’s not obscure enough - but, whatever the words of men, these diamonds emit real fire!
Augustus, my raggle-taggle Persian, sat and listened to the whole thing with me, pausing only to stretch out to have his chin stroked. A cat in a state of grace, obviously…
“Standing tall before now, a being of beauty. Death whistles and rings of muffled music cause this worshipped body to rise up, expand, and tremble like a ghost. Scarlet and black wounds break out on the proud flesh. The very colors of life deepen, dance, and stand out from the vision, in the yard. Tremblings rise and threaten, and the persistent taste of these effects combining with the whistle of men and the discordant music which the world, far behind us, throws to our mother of beauty. She draws back and stands up. Our bones are reclothed with a new and amorous body. Oh! the ashen face, the horsehair emblem, the crystal arms! The cannon on which I must fall, in the medley trees of light and air!” — Arthur Rimbaud, The Illuminations