Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex
Unlike Pet Sounds, where you can set the CD player to shuffle and come up with a random auditory delight, this album warrants a serious listening session. It's a gorgeous, yet not necessarily an immediately easy listen. Sonically, the album is a first rate treat, recreating the feel of the original sessions and instrumentation. It's a bit jarring to realize that it isn't the Beach Boys on these tracks (including the vocal standouts Our Prayer, Cabin Essence and Surf's Up), yet the one thing that comes through on these tracks is the sheer enthusiasm for them, where the existing Beach Boy Smile fragments reek of nothing other than desultory going through the motions.
Our Prayer is juxtaposed with the early doo-wop "Gee", although "Gee" is altered into something else (As a side note "Gee" is co-credited to Morris Levy, undoubtedly the inspiration for Hesh on "The Sopranos"; Levy is also the ahem, co-writer of classic doo-wop such as "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"). The revamped "Heroes and Villains" is a much more satisfying, yet challenging effort than the original to my ears. If anything, the Beach Boys only fully realized "Heroes and Villains" on the great 1973 "In Concert" set, an album that put full-throated rock voicings to a lot of great songs like "Sail On Sailor" and "Marcella". The end of the first suite (for want of a better term) is the eerily beautiful "Cabin Essence", whose "Who ran the iron horse?" choral arrangement still sends chills down my spine.
The lushness of the arrangements works well with classics such as "Surf's Up" (another tragically underrated Beach Boys song and album) and "Good Vibrations", although the purists will cringe at the reworked lyrics of "Good Vibrations". The latter is especially poignant, as "Good Vibrations" was always Carl's song (there are affectionate dedications to Carl and Dennis in the liner notes, and the other members of the Beach Boys are notably absent in the acknowledgements).
While the arrangements are lush, the songs in many ways are simple, keeping to the original premise of "Dumb Angel". Not that much of this album can be heard out of context without a certain jarring sensation (although most of the previously mentioned tracks work well as standalones). It's definitely a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, as even on the instrumental "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow", there's little comparison with "Let's Go Away For A While" and "Pet Sounds".
It's rather hard to say even with the benefit of hindsight where "Smile" stands in relation to its "contemporaries". It isn't Lancashire with a touch of hallucinogens, and it feels a million miles away from "Pet Sounds", which was still recognizable territory (post-adolescent angst) for the listener. The ultimate product will probably be best compared with other contemporary sonic tapestries, some more absurd than others (the one that actually comes to mind of all things is Zappa's "Absolutely Free", with a more twisted American Gothic vision than this idealized one).
It's a worthy listen.
And now for something not posted on Blogcritics....
In the commerce is sometimes stranger than reality department, it seems that the Colombian Coffee Growers have opened a Juan Valdez coffee shop in Manhattan. Old Juan's been a pretty durable fixture in advertising, what's it been, 40 years? We always thought he was some sort of reaction to Savarin's El Exigente (The Demanding One, always spoken in Montalban-esque tones, no huge surprise since the actor who played El Exigente was Ricardo's brother Carlos). Mad even did a funny little bit about El Exigente passing on, and Juan Valdez doing the eulogy, but it does occur, do these guys think that there's any huge consumer loyalty because of old Juan? It's not as if there was a specific brand associated with it. I wonder exactly what blends they will use, because in my experience most supermarket coffees are mostly filler beans with just a touch of the good stuff for flavor, and if they're trying to promote purchase of supermarket quantities, the various formulations won't come anywhere close to what they're peddling in the shop. I know I'll probably be branded as hopelessly nekulturny, but my personal favorite coffee blends are Dunkin Donuts' and the blend the coffee cart vendors sell in Manhattan outside of the office buildings. I'll give Juan's a try for grins and giggles, though....
Finally, in the Quote Without (OK, maybe with a little) Comment Department check out this little pronouncement from TTBFKACS.....