The Beach Boys, Smiley Smile

The chief sin of this album is being the castoffs of Smile instead of actually being Smile, but Smile has solely achieved its legend by not existing such that it becomes the tabula rasa justification for every pre-meme meme about Brian Wilson's genius. (In these later, more enlightened times, we have Wilson's own 2004 attempt, as well as the actual early recordings as The Smile Sessions. By also not being Smile, they enable Smile to continue being better than any album that ever existed.) This is not to say, however, that Smiley Smile is an unappreciated jewel cursed by cultural circumstance. The production is largely lo-fi home studio quality, and not in a good way, and the intentionally simplified nature of the recordings comes off more as lazy than inspired. Yet the damnedest thing about this profoundly unprofessional work is how earwormy some of it is: tracks like "Heroes and Villains" and "Vegetables" (crunch crunch) — and of course "Good Vibrations" — are so inventive and audacious they'll sit in your auditory tract for days, and you'll like it, as they're so appealingly original that the unapologetic technical faults (like, notoriously, the control booth's "good" in "With Me Tonight") end up just being part of the magic. That said, an album this haphazard is bound to throw more than a few duds, and it does; the "W. Woodpecker Symphony" probably sounded better as an idea than the actual track, "Wind Chimes" is unpleasant and particularly unfocused, and worse still for the baffling "She's Goin' Bald" and vaguely creepy "Gettin' Hungry." But it ends well on an atmospheric note, most strongly the gauzy, trembling first love story of "Wonderful" but also the amiable "Whistle In." The verdict still stands: not Smile, and the myth remains undefeated, but enough rough elements of it exist that the fans can still what-if with conviction. Capitol paired this album in CD reissues with the less adventurous but also less gonzo Wild Honey, also not Smile, and not nearly noteworthy enough to stand even with its unrefined predecessor. To fix this, they threw in a radically different "Heroes and Villains" with a differing bridge and ending, along with a couple good quality B-sides (especially their acapella version of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring") and one of the longest versions of "Can't Wait Too Long" from the Wild Honey sessions. Unfortunately, the "various sessions" and early take of "Good Vibrations" are at best intermittently interesting, but I do like this two-for-one idea. (Content: mild adult themes on "Gettin' Hungry.")