The Beach Boys' Smile long loomed as pop's greatest unfinished masterwork, before the weight of its ambitions took both Smile and the Beach Boys down with it. Until 2004, that is, when band mastermind Brian Wilson managed to pull the album (and himself) together, producing a newly recorded, fully intact Smile as a solo project. Elaborate, immaculately conceived, and triumphant as long-hoped, it gave a happy ending to pop's greatest cliffhanger. The Smile Sessions, EMI's latest entry to the Smile canon, acts as a sort of cathartic coda to its cult followers, achieving what no other stitched-together bootleg from the past four and a half decades has managed: re-creating Smile in its entirety using material from the original Beach Boys 1967 sessions. Looser and more acid-soaked than the 2004 rendition, it finds the group's two greatest strengths, studio production and vocal harmonies, at full power. Undeniably, it is the definitive Smile. It also makes clear how tantalizingly close Wilson got to completing his opus. The remaining 80 minutes of Sessions consists of outtakes, studio scraps, and several unreleased tracks, all further highlighting the incomprehensible intricacy of Smile and foreshadowing the strains that led to the band's collapse.
★★★★★ (out of 5 stars)