Jane Monheit's Taking a Chance on Love (Sony Classical) isn't just another no-talent crossover album, but what is a jazz singer doing on Sony Classical? Monheit, a skilled and precociously self-assured chanteuse, sings standard tunes like "Dancing in the Dark" satisfactorily, but it's the latest wrinkle in a decade-old tactic. Sony and other major labels boost the cash flow for their less-profitable divisions by padding their roster with genre-skipping acts, tarted-up musicians (Andrea Bocelli, Bond, Vanessa Mae), and movie soundtracks.

One bright spot of this otherwise necrotic crossover trend, though, is the appearance of Brian Wilson Presents Smile (Nonesuch), formerly the great Lost Album of All Time. Locked in a self-imposed race with the Beatles (who themselves were dazzled by 1966's Pet Sounds and hoped to top it with Sgt. Pepper), Brian Wilson wanted Smile to be "a teenage symphony to God" that forsook the Beach Boys' hit-making formula (surfing, girls, cars), transcending the typical studio and songwriting techniques of pop music.

Undermined by baffled bandmates--lead singer Mike Love reportedly told Brian Wilson, "Don't fuck with the formula"--as well as beset by mental health issues and drug-induced demons, Wilson abandoned Smile. What remained were fragmentary tracks, demos, one indisputable masterpiece, "Good Vibrations," and two underrated classics, "Heroes and Villains" and "Surf's Up," which variously cropped up on Smile's surrogate, Smiley Smile, and subsequent albums including 20/20 and Surf's Up.

Smile became mythologized into the great lost album of rock and roll, a song cycle of symphonic breadth and depth. Countless bootlegs appeared over the years, making it an Open Source concept album for home tapers to reassemble according to the bits of Smile lore, rumors, and suppositions.

In Spring 2004, Brian Wilson stepped into the studio to re-record and complete Smile. Beach Boys fans will find tons of tidbits to love or loathe. I'll spare you my own list, though after revisiting four hours of bootlegs, I was surprised by how closely Brian Wilson Presents Smile follows the unfinished tracks recorded 30 years ago.

The finished Smile is a paradox. Seemingly short-circuited by the cut-up technique of Tristan Tzara, Van Dyke Parks' whimsical soda fountain shoppe lyrics and Wilson's nostalgic timbres (clip-clop percussion, honky-tonk piano, the forlorn Old West whinny of an echoing harmonica, slide whistles, doo-wop backing vocals, and radio sound effects) affirm pop music's unbroken continuum from the "Moon/ June/Spoon" days of the early 1900s to today's ProTools-built hits. Yet Smile's brazenly modular structure and crisscrossing melodic themes pave a still-possible path for songwriters of all stripes to break the century old verse-chorus-verse chains. An essential, albeit tardy, barrier-breaking masterpiece.

chris@delaurenti.net

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