Half Smile

Brian Wilson's long-delayed magnum opus fails to topple Pet Sounds from its pedestal

"I wasn't intimidated by it at all," Wilson insists. "It brought back good memories."

The new Smile began taking shape in early 2004. Once Wilson committed to finishing it, Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints loaded all the music he could find in Capitol's vaults and on bootlegs onto his iBook, and acted as "musical secretary" as Wilson sifted through his past.

Parks was also back, adding new words to go with some new melodies. One line, "Is it hot as hell in here / Or is it me / It really is a mystery," is a particularly telling stab at deciphering Wilson's often tortured psyche.

Wilson: Is the latest album his greatest -- or merely his "ego music"?
Wilson: Is the latest album his greatest -- or merely his "ego music"?


Saturday, October 23; for more information, call 713-230-1600
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After road-testing the entire project on European audiences, the band hit the studio. "It's a quiltwork of impressions of America," Parks offers. "Little things, faintly connected, imagery to confirm the American vision."

So Smile is finally here. Is it everything it was supposed to be, the crowning achievement of a certified musical genius?

Well, the answer is…no. In all fairness to Wilson and Parks, whatever they put out in 2004 couldn't possibly live up to the legend. And there's no way to tell what kind of impact differently recorded material would have had in 1967, just before (or after) Sgt. Pepper. Also, Wilson's deepened, staccato 2004 voice often doesn't suit the material. And try as they may, the backing band can't re-create (or surpass) the magical harmonies of the original Beach Boys.

Furthermore, two of Smile's best songs ("Heroes and Villains" and "Surf's Up") had already seen the light of day, and it's easy to see why "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" made for truly jolting music. While some tracks ("Cabin Essence," "Song for Children/Child Is the Father to Man") reach high and succeed, on the whole the project is too hodgepodge. Instruments drop in and out, tempos constantly shift, and songs hint at themes without really delving in. Smile is an album of fragments with occasional aural interest, but Pet Sounds remains Wilson's masterpiece.

At the Verizon show, Wilson and his band will present Smile with a helping of his Beach Boys and solo material. Asked if he had any memories of Houston (other than a famous nervous breakdown on a plane bound for the city in late 1964), he says something that undoubtedly will be repeated in the rest of his 15-minute interviews with journalists, with only the city changed.

"I remember the girls are very pretty in Houston," he says without missing a beat. "There's a lot of pretty chicks there!"

One would assume, though, that they are not nearly as pretty as California girls.

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