Skip to comments.The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made the Radio (New CD Review)
Posted on 06/05/2012 3:17:58 PM PDT by curth
Heroes [not] Villains
The irony of the Beach Boys tragedy has made that tragedy all the more painful. For several generations of people around the world, the bands vey name has been synonymous with good ol fashioned fun in the sun, of fresh-faced, pre-Vietnam American innocence. Even their more crestfallen later work was defined by a sweet, nostalgic ache. But the bands tale of abuse, addiction, mental illness, dubious associations, premature deaths, and ugly lawsuits is by now almost as familiar as California Girls.
At the center of it all, of course, has been Brian Wilson. In terms of public portrayal, he has gone from yet another 1960s acid casualty to helpless, exploited pawn in the games of would-be therapists and businessmen, to damaged but ultimately triumphant survivor. Everybody wished for a happy ending for Brian. And, in the last decade, from his 2004 resurrection of Smile to his well-received new material and tours, they seem to have gotten it.
The Beach Boys, however, are another story. Its surely not so simple, but if Brian Wilson was the hero, his former band, led by Wilsons cousin Mike Love, has been the villain. Marginalizing the mentally ill Wilson only to rope him back in to ensure record label and fan interest, arranging outlandish collaborations with the Fat Boys, suing Wilson for releasing Smile without them, turning into a casino-bound lounge act, and Kokomo are only the most heinous of the Love-led Beach Boys crimes.
So this 50th Anniversary reunion of Wilson, Love, and the other surviving 60s-era Beach Boys is at once incredible and suspect. It seems like an improbable opportunity to right the ship for posterity, yet it could just as well send the ship sputtering to the bottom for good.
Thats Why God Made the Radio, at least, swings the balance toward the former. This result is not least due to the bands approach. They didnt pour the contemporary producers and songwriting hacks into the studio. Wilson produced, and though the list of purported extra musicians is long, they are mostly orchestra players and members of Wilsons regular backing band. Joining Wilson and lifers Love and Bruce Johnston are Al Jardine, who has not performed with the band since 1998, and guitarist David Marks, an important but oft-forgotten member whose previous album with the band was Little Deuce Couple in 1963. Wilson co-wrote all but one of the 12 tracks, working primarily with familiar collaborator Joe Thomas.
Thats Why God Made the Radio plays out not unlike the late 60s/70s-era Beach Boys albums, such as Friends and Surfs Up that belatedly have become cult favorites. It starts off pretty strong, is nearly derailed by a couple untenable duds, and delivers a major Brian Wilson payoff at the end.
After the sweet, ponderous overture Think About the Times, the title track and first single is a perfectly likable track whose strong harmonies save it from a plodding arrangement and trite lyrics. Weaker, though, are the songs that directly address the bands make-up and reunion. Isnt It Time is a perky, sincere doo-wop number, but Spring Vacation and especially Beaches In Mind are pure cruise-ship fare. As for the past / Its all behind us, Love sings on Spring Vacation, Happier now / Look where love finds us. Despite those buoyant harmonies, though, its tough to discern any real meaning in his voice.
When Wilson stops trying to bring back the good times and just does his own thing, he delivers some gems. The calypso-tinged The Private Life of Bill and Sue is a bemused and surprisingly cutting look reality television, and features a classic, soaring, harmony-laden chorus that is as blissful as anything the band have done. Questions about Auto-Tune and studio trickery have inevitably abounded. The Boys, though, most of whom are about 70, can still hit those harmonies like no one else. Only Jardines voice retains the spunky, boyish tone of the bands heyday, but everyone is in tune most of the time, and it sounds natural. Wilsons croon, thicker and reedier now, is still a wonderful instrument.
Thats Why God Made the Radios real payoff comes in the form of the four-song suite that closes the album. Strange World is a beautiful piano ballad complete with Pet Sounds-like tympani and castanets. Jardine carries the ponderous, swooning From There to Back Again as the harmonies swirl around him like the sun itself. The final pair of songs is simply stunning. Pacific Coast Highway and Summers Gone are introspective, genuinely sad meditations that reveal the counterpoint to the funn'sun banter thats come before. My life / Im better off alone, sings Wilson on Pacific Coast Highway, as the band wish him goodbye. Its a stunning moment, and it embodies the melancholy and ache that have always marked Wilsons greatness. Summers Gone is a haunting, touching denouement. Summers Gone, Wilson sings, Its finally sinkin in We laugh and cry / We live and die / And dream about our yesterdays, as the harmonies and piano and strings weep. For a man whose band is synonymous with the warmest season, the symbolism is striking.
As a whole, Thats Why God Made the Radio is not a top-tier Beach Boys album. But its neither a reach nor hyperbole to say this final suite is among the strongest, most affecting music Wilson has ever recorded. It seems right that his old bandmates are a part of it. Rating 7 out of 10 stars = Damn good.
On sale at Target for $7.99
cbs news: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501368_162-57446660/review-brian-wilson-writes-new-beach-boys-album/
usa today: http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/reviews/story/2012-06-04/beach-boys-thats-why-god-made-the-radio/55385752/1
Pretty much major raves in the L.A. Times and in Time magazine as well. It’s a great record. The whole thing is streaming for a limited time on AOL’s music site, “Spinner.” Definitely worth a listen.
Rock on, baby.
The song “That’s Why God Made Radio” is excellent, and took me right back to the 60s.
Thanks for the heads up. I’m listening to it now:
Had the privilege of spending some time with Jan and Dean back in the ‘90s. Great guys who made some epic records.
Don’t miss this new Beach Boys, though. They really did a beautiful job. The critics who were expecting a “sun and fun” toss-off are surprised they’ve run into one of their best albums, 50 years along.
And, no, I don’t work PR for the Beach Boys! :-)
David Marks back inthe band makes it right. He was close to the family.
check out the whole thing on the AOL “Spinner” site, LS. It’s impressive.
wow nice brings back memories
Linda thought so also...
Never met any of the BB's in my rock days. Strange. I seem to have met a bunch of other people, but they were just never around.
Which is odd because, well, they got around!
Goingt to see the Beach Boys on Friday in The Woodlands, TX.
My iTunes account is downloading slowly, or I'd be listening to that new album by now.
Love the Beach Boys and so glad they reunited.
I was lucky enough to sit at the next table to Brian Wilson at a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley around 2006. He was perfectly normal, entertaining his young kids with stories about Walter Mitty and then trying to take over at the piano bar. Sadly, the pianist did not recognize Brian and completely ignored him. Brian simply shrugged and returned to his seat.
The mp3 album is $4.99 at Amazon.
Great story, thank you! You will love the album!
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