In 1967, Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson shelved “Smile,” an ambitious concept album intended as the group’s masterpiece.
Thirty-seven years later, “Smile” received its live premiere in London on Saturday — and most critics agreed it was worth the wait.
Wilson, 61 and performing again after years as a near recluse, received a five-minute standing ovation at the end of Friday’s show at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
A black-clad Wilson led an 18-piece band in performances of several Beach Boys hits, followed by the complete “Smile” — concluding with its best-known track, the pop classic “Good Vibrations.”
Fans were rapturous. The Guardian newspaper hailed the work’s “groundbreaking complexity and sophistication,” while The Daily Telegraph called it “a glorious, tangled symphony of celebration and sadness.”
“Smile” was intended as a follow-up to The Beach Boys’ groundbreaking 1966 album “Pet Sounds,” and its lush orchestration took advantage of advances in recording technology.
The perfectionist Wilson worked for months to build the album’s multi-layered sound, but shelved it shortly before its scheduled release, explaining that the songs were “not commercial.”
Over the years, “Smile” gained a reputation among fans as the band’s lost masterpiece.
It may not deserve that status, Times of London critic Stephen Dalton wrote Saturday, but he nonetheless hailed “the grace and wisdom” Wilson displayed.
“Smile,” he said, was “a 40-minute crazy-paving collage of song fragments and Looney Tunes jingles, all bookended by the lush glory of ’Heroes and Villains’ and the rapturous warble of ’Good Vibrations’ ... It was clearly adventurous for its era but it is not difficult to see why Wilson’s label and fellow Beach Boys balked at releasing it.”
Wilson is due to play five more London concerts this week, followed by several dates around Britain and continental Europe.