The new version of 'Good Vibrations' from Brian Wilson's legendary Smile is pretty great. (I can't help smiling when I hear him lead into the chorus with 'and I'm PICKIN' UP!!') Indeed, the album is so lush and beautiful I can hardly believe it - Smile seems like the soundtrack to some kind of impossible movie musical starring hundreds and hundreds of children from all over the world. But listening to this new album, with Brian Wilson's voice now an octave south of its Pet Sounds-era heights, does manage to underline the sheer perfection of the Beach Boys' harmonies. The AllMusic profile of Wilson calls him the greatest composer of pop music of his time, and between Pet Sounds and Smile I'd say he gives the Beatles a run for their money. But no matter the strength of the material, I have trouble thinking of pop vocals as otherworldly as those California boys' voices.
Atop which, try and imagine, as a thought experiment, another popular group putting out a song like 'Good Vibrations'. Crazy falsetto vocals, modulations scattered throughout, abrupt shifts in tempo, no thumping bass/snare beats for the dance kids, those hippie love lyrics. Is that sort of thing even within the power of today's pop groups? I suppose more importantly: it's not within their vocabulary, nor their ambitions. 'Good Vibrations' is too packed and melodious a song - it's like a cabaret number. There's no place for it anywhere. Which makes the rapturous reception for Smile both gratifying and sad - sad because of the nostalgia and fannish expectation it manifests, sad because the kids probably aren't listening, and wouldn't know how to.
Probably no one will grow up listening to Smile. It almost brings tears.