Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Brian Wilson: SMiLE [Nonesuch, 2004]
There are many things I don't miss about the '60s, including long hair, LSD, revolutionary rhetoric, and folkies playing drums. But the affluent optimism that preceded and then secretly pervaded the decade's apocalyptic alienation is a lost treasure of a time when capitalism had so much slack in it that there was no pressing need to stop your mind from wandering. Brian Wilson grokked surfing because it embodied that optimism, and though I considered the legend of Smile hot air back then, this re-creation proves he had plenty more to make of it. The five titles played for minimalist whimsy on Smiley Smile mean even more orchestrated, and the newly released fragments are as strong as the whole songs they tie together. Smile's post-adolescent utopia isn't disfigured by Brian's thickened, soured 62-year-old voice. It's ennobled--the material limitations of its sunny artifice and pretentious tomfoolery acknowledged and joyfully engaged. This can only be tonic for Americans long since browbeaten into lowering their expectations by the rich men who are stealing their money. A+