Does Brian make that big a difference [in 15 Big Ones]? Not really.
There is no question that Brian Wilson is a genuine talent in American music (mind you, we're talking about a category somewhat beyond rock 'n' roll) and the controversy about whether he did or did not destroy/burn the famous Smile tapes just might be the valid rock equivalent to the search/confusion over the missing portions of [Erich] Von Stroheim's alleged film masterpiece Greed. Nevertheless, Smile was ten years ago and one can wait only so long for the vanquished hero to return. Unfortunately, on 15 Big Ones at least, he hasn't.
The overriding concept … behind 15 is not dissimilar to the recent work by another well-known concept artist, Todd Rundgren, on Faithful: re-recorded oldies mixed with new material.
The originals sound even more forced than the oldies. Whatever happened to Brian Wilson the composer, the guy who was someday supposed to write these symphonies and be like Beethoven or somebody? Here he's reduced to merely a glorified producer, an arranger no less. In his heralded comeback, Brian Wilson remains an invisible man and the state of his talent in the Seventies an unanswered question. (p. 64)
Bill Gubbins, in Creem (© copyright 1976 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), September, 1976.