Brian Wilson: Smile

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Brian Wilson

Album: Smile
Label: Nonesuch

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Titling an album Smile begs comparison to the fabled, impossibly ambitious, never-released Beach Boys project of the same name. And the Twin Cities alt-country band The Jayhawks may just be that audacious, releasing two near-perfect records in the '90s (Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass) before stumbling following the departure of co-leader Mark Olson. While Olson has since independently released several albums with wife Victoria Williams—recording with Mike "Razz" Russell as The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers—The Jayhawks tried and failed to up the ante with 1997's rote, oddly joyless Sound Of Lies, raising the stakes for Smile. But while the new disc displays ample effort at every turn, periodically spiking the band's ambling, soothing sound with musical and production tricks, it's telling that Smile's lush, catchy title track is all about how you should, well, smile. (To hammer the point home, new member Jen Gunderman coos, "chin up, chin up" in the background.) Beautifully produced and played but lyrically inert, the album's remainder suffers from a similar pursuit of polish over substance, delivering poppy highlights alongside uninspired couplets, at one point even rhyming "little girl" with "great big world" in "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me." Still, the fact that those highlights keep recurring ("Queen Of The World," among others) sets Smile apart from the leaden Sound Of Lies, taking giant steps toward The Jayhawks' increasingly likely return to form.

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