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With the overtly loud rock and roll of Definitely Maybe, Oasis had by now been essentially making the same record for seven years ... take a couple of riff-oriented guitar/rockers, two or three anthemic ballads, a couple of Beatle-esque pop tunes, and maybe a hippy-dippy campfire singalong, and that's an Oasis record.

Certainly the quality of the songwriting is an important factor in comparing the band's records, which is why (What's The Story) Morning Glory comes out on top. But aside from the songwriting, the key distinguishing factor with Oasis records is their production, and it's the intelligent instrumentation and great-sounding mix that elevates Heathen Chemistry to the silver medal spot.

Noel Gallagher and company seem to have discovered that keyboard players can do more than just hold down chords, and as a result there's such lovely bits as the Hammond organ playing a counter-melody on the Townshend-esque ballad "She Is Love", and the jazzy little electric keyboard run on Liam's wonderfully sweet "Songbird".

Save for a couple of real standouts - the fantastic one-riff guitar drone "The Hindu Times", and the understated Noel-sung ballad "Little By Little" - along with a couple of underwhelming tunes in the mundane four-chord ballad "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" and the unmemorable Gem Archer rocker "Hung in a Bad Place", this record is remarkably consistent and plays wonderfully well as a complete song-cycle.

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by Reviewer: Marco Marco

Posted: Monday 22nd Jan 2018 7:03 PM
Recent album review
Pet Sounds had pushed Brian Wilson to breaking point, and his quest to produce the perfect followup shattered him. He was fucked-up, and would feel the results for almost two decades.

It took Wilson almost until the 1990's before even a glimmer of that old brilliance could be seen again, before he could really come to grips with his daunting work from 1966-67. So, what sent Wilson spiraling off out into the cosmos in such an inglorious way?

Unable to handle it any longer, he retreated to his house and boarded-up the windows to keep the demons out. The other bandmembers - with the firey breath of an angry record company close on their heels - finally coaxed him into rewriting and finally recording some new and leftover material to make up enough for a new album, to which he agreed, and Smiley Smile was the patchwork result.

The end result was a nasty rejection and indifference from a fanbase who either wanted The Beach Boys to produce another Pet Sounds (or more likely another All Summer Long). Besides the singles "Good Vibrations" (which was old hat by then) and "Heroes and Villains" (which was a flop), there wasn't anything at all from this album that captured the average listener's imagination - it was difficult, confusing, and tossed-off, and was 'crazy' in a disturbing unpleasant way rather than in a cute 'wacky' way. Welcome to the arms of madness ...

Nowadays, the haunting 'pet sounds' and odd vocal harmonies of Smiley Smile no longer seem quite so off-putting, especially when compared to Zappa's oddly similar concurrent work with the Mothers (take away all the jazzy instrumental sections and some of the more spectacular yelling, add a few more pop melody fragments, and Uncle Meat could pass for a second disc of Smiley Smile).

Parts of the album feel unfinished, as if they just picked up a handful of random overdub tracks from the Smile sessions, added the completed version of "Good Vibrations" and a randomly selected final mix of "Heroes and Villains", and decided to make an album out of it.

The more titillating fragments include "Vegetables" (which corresponds quite nicely with Zappa's own veggie-fixated "Invocation and Ritual Dance..." from Absolutely Free), which has Paul McCartney crunching and munching various members of the plant kingdom right there for our enjoyment, and the intriguing harmonies of "With Me Tonight", which sounds like a Pet Sounds piece, but too pure and good to be included in that bag of mixed messages.

Interestingly enough, I hear some big Flaming Lips reference points in "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter", which is probably one of the most deceptively titled songs since I figured out James Brown's "Lickin' Stick" probably wasn't about Lick'em Stix.

Other tracks barely work at all. "Little Pad" is just worthless, a collage of poor-quality vocal tracks interspersed with Hawaiian guitar and random nothingness ... the band cracks up at the beginning, which is always a bad omen. And the last two tracks do nothing for me either - "Whistle In" repeats the same little riff for a minute but ends up nowhere, and the growling lead vocal on the listless "Wonderful" is more distasteful than romantic.

Smiley Smile mostly screams out 'unfinished', as there's no way 'Overdub' Wilson would've released an album sounding this sparse if he'd had half a mind left when it happened. These tracks literally resemble one-hundredth of the music on say "Good Vibrations" - there's more lost in the mix of that song than on the rest of the album combined. The fact that it still works at all is testament to the amount of thought Wilson devoted to the (insignificant) details of his songs.

Given the album is as jarring as it is, imagining a version of Smiley Smile without its two singles is like trying to imagine the Spice Girls without Posh Spice's black-patent leather outfit. You could try, but why? Because these final gasps are among Wilson's most amazing work ...

"Heroes and Villains", which was released in a version that he was never quite happy with (and better versions do indeed exist), is a highly goofy pop opera that seems to combine The Ronettes and Gregorian chant. The words just tumble out in a torrent, seemingly unrelated to what's happening in the music, making it delightfully incoherent for the listener. It's the kind of vocal experimentation I can handle.

And "Good Vibrations" is quite possibly the best pop song ever released, and I'm not joking about that ... Wilson's taken Spector's conceit that the orchestra should be felt instead of heard to the logical extreme. There's unknown dozens of tracks somewhere deep down inside the song, and they were all bled and wept over until they reached perfection. Wilson mixes Theremins, an overdriven Fender bass, about a hundred vocal overdubs, and some of the most booming percussion ever put to tape, then compresses it all down into a mono AM masterpiece, that even sounds superb blasting from cheap car speakers.

There's probably more great material lost in the final mix of "Good Vibrations" than in the entire catalogues of many 'classic' rock bands, and most of it you can only feel because it's almost impossible to actually hear it. And what's more, the song completely refutes the ambiguity and confusion of Pet Sounds with a wholly positive feel that brims with ... well, good vibrations!

Because Smiley Smile came from such a cantankerous period in The Beach Boys' history, it's required listening for anyone interested in the band's story - it's a way of observing the charred earth left by Wilson's legendary burnout. The problem is that the album doesn't reveal much - while Pet Sounds was introspective and lucid, and provided a snapshot of Wilson's mental condition at the time, Smiley Smile is simply too far gone to make much sense at all. Wilson had gone from describing his fears and insecurities in great detail, to writing little ditties about vegetables and girls losing their hair. And that's indicative of his sad and destructive situation.

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by Reviewer: Capt Bonanza

Posted: Tuesday 23rd Jan 2018 12:55 PM
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