Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Today, we’re rating the 2016 audiophile reissue of The Beach Boys’ misunderstood classic ‘Smiley Smile’, released by Analogue Productions.
Sometimes an album can become overshadowed by the story that precedes it. Such is the case with The Beach Boys’ highly experimental 1967 effort ‘Smiley Smile’, an album arguably better known for what it could have been than what it actually was – a great shame given the abundance of depth and nuance that the record has on offer to anyone brave enough to give the band’s strangest effort a go. The album’s creation and the hyperbole that hovered around it – Brian Wilson proclaimed it to be a masterpiece to eclipse even ‘Pet Sounds’ – is well known so we won’t go into detail here (there’re more than enough words given over to that story already) but even stripped of historical context ‘Smiley Smile’ is a curious, at times baffling and often stunning album. It’s a collection of ephemeral, fleeting sound collages – the album itself is only 27 minutes long – most songs lasting only a couple of minutes and often throwing a seemingly chaotic mixture of eclectic instrumentation and scattershot harmonies at the listener, in what can initially appear to be something of a “throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks-” kind of listening experience. Those not scared off by the first listen eventually find a rare sort of crazed brilliance in the album, the often hugely complex vocal arrangements stunning even by the standards of the band’s legendary preceding album ‘Pet Sounds’. It’s an undeniably bizarre effort but a greatly rewarding one either despite or because of it. Although ‘Pet Sounds’ may remain the popular choice for greatest Beach Boys album, ‘Smiley Smile’ has so much to offer that its comparatively obscure status is a great shame.
Aimed squarely at the more discerning end of the market, this reissue is a top notch pressing and one that presents ‘Smiley Smile’ in fantastic form. We don’t have any other pressings to compare this reissue to but we wouldn’t be surprised if this stands as the definitive edition of the album. Analogue Productions released the album in both Stereo and Mono and, although it’s the Mono version that has historically been considered the “correct” way to hear vintage Beach Boys, we’re looking at the Stereo version here. Remastered from the original master tapes, the stereo soundscape on this pressing is mesmerising; although a Mono presentation is most likely how Brian Wilson and the rest of the band initially envisaged the album, the gloriously rich & intricate vocal harmonies benefit no-end from the separation and clarity of the bright Stereo mix on this pressing. Mastered by Kevin Grey, this pressing also offers balanced, clear sonics with strong representation of all the frequencies and an overall clarity that can easily feel lacking on less fastidiously remastered reissues of ’60s recordings.
Quality control regarding the actual pressing itself is likewise excellent. An informational sticker on the protective plastic bag around the sleeve proudly boasts of the record being “plated and pressed at the world’s best pressing plant on virgin vinyl” and, indeed, this is a great pressing. Every now and then we can just hear the lightest crackle or two but it’s definitely one of the quietest new pressings we’ve heard in quite some time and the 200 gram pressing feels as deluxe as it sounds. It’s not just sound quality that’s deluxe, either: the pricetag, too, comes with an air of exclusivity with most copies going for around $35 in the US and a fair amount more across the pond. Is it worth it? For those with a discerning ear, we’d say yes. At the moment, there are no other new options out there either, as these Mono and Stereo Analogue Productions pressings are the only in-print reissues of the album available. So, the only other option is attempting to hunt-down a vintage copy (which would likely be sonically inferior and probably not even much cheaper).
Packaging is very attractive on this reissue, faithfully reproducing the feel and look of a vintage US-made ’60s record sleeve, with some added perks. Any record collectors who’ve ventured into the world of vintage 1st pressings will likely be familiar with the sturdy tip-on sleeve commonly found on American pressings from the ’60s and before. Made of thick slabs of cardboard with the art printed onto paper pasted onto the card rather than printed directly onto the cardboard itself, vintage tip-on sleeves are usually found in varying states of decay – so having this reissue authentically reproduce the packaging of the original US pressing is a treat for collectors. There’s a real attention to detail in the presentation here, with everything from a “File Under” note in the top right corner to the believably retro spine seemingly purpose-made to please collectors. Sealed in a perforated plastic bag rather than the more conventional shrinkwrap, Analogue Productions again nods towards the collectors market here, with some claiming that tight shrinkwrap can bend corners of sleeves and even warp records if left unopened for too long. Whilst we’ve only occasionally seen the former and never the latter, the loose seal on this reissue should put the minds of those concerned about such things to rest.
Also included are two inserts, one advertising other Analogue Productions reissues and the other detailing the remaster process of the series of Beach Boys albums that have been released by the label. One more big plus is the fact that, from new, the record is kept in a high quality rice paper inner sleeve – by far the best type of inner sleeve available.
This is a very high quality reissue of ‘Smiley Smile’. The Stereo mix is excellent and the master is vivid and focused. Pressing quality and presentation are excellent and, although it’s not the cheapest release around, the price is justified by the high quality. An easy recommendation to anyone seeking a powerful, direct mix and master of the album.