This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Beach Boys weren’t supposed to record their best album in 40 years when four out the five members of the band are averaging seventy years old.
But that’s what they’ve done. That’s Why God Made The Radio, the band’s new album, out today, may not be Pet Sounds, but it’s not that far out of the ballpark.
Alongside reunited bandmates Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, Brian Wilson has produced an album that feels natural and organic, with little to no concessions to today. Which really, that’s what you’d want a Beach Boys reunion album to sound like.
Running 38 minutes, the album could be split into two sides, with the first containing upbeat tracks like the title song and the interesting Isn’t It Time, which could have come off a late 60’s or early 70’s album from the band. The second half slows down a bit, but is home to an absolutely gorgeous 13-minute suite of music that closes things out. Those four songs (Strange World ->From There To Back Again->Pacific Coast Highway->Summer’s Gone) constitute some of the most beautiful music The Beach Boys have ever made together, and that includes the strongest pieces from Pet Sounds and SMiLE. Yes, it’s that good.
All the boys still sound great, though time has robbed Brian Wilson of the falsetto of his youth. However, in his longtime guitarist and bandleader Jeffery Foskett, who handles the high parts now, the group has a voice that blends seamlessly with there own.
While Brian is credited as producer, with Mike Love acting as executive producer, credit has to go to Joe Thomas, who recorded That’s Why God Made The Radio and co-wrote the majority of songs with Wilson. Thomas last worked with Brian on his 1998 solo album Your Imagination and took the brunt of criticism from fans for it’s highly polished sound. Here, he is a sympathetic collaborator, helping Brian and the boys make the album die hard fans thought they’d never hear.
While Brian Wilson has had great critical success of the last decade with his various solo albums, what I realize now having listened to That’s Why God Made The Radio five or six times is that, as good as Brian’s latter work has been, it has sorely missed the voices that he guided to stardom some 50 years ago. No other blend comes close. It’s amazing that this album is here for us and that it’s as good as it is. Should it be the last to be credited to The Beach Boys, it truly is a fitting end to the band’s enduring legacy.
Track By Track:
Think About The Day – As Brian would say, no words, just voices and piano. Just those gorgeous harmonies that only The Beach Boys can produce. An absolutely perfect way to begin the album.
That’s Why God Made The Radio – In a perfect world, this would be a Billboard Number One. Instead, the Boys will have to settle for having crafted another classic single. Brian takes the lead, but I think the star of the track is Bruce Johnston, who hits a number of hooks with his distinctive voice. Jeff Foskett from Brian’s band handles the falsetto parts with ease.
Isn’t It Time – Lead vocals from Brian, Mike Love and Al Jardine. This song harkens back to the production style of Wild Honey or 20/20 – minimal instrumentation – acoustic guitar from David Marks, ukulele, piano and hand claps. Brian’s lead vocals, Mike hitting the bass notes, Al coming in on the chorus. Both Mike and Al’s voices sound untouched in the studio.
Spring Vacation – A Wilson-Love co-write (though Joe Thomas has his name on there as well). A shuffle beat, lyrics looking back with references to classic Beach Boys tunes (“we used to get around”, “good vibrations”). One of the best things about this album is that there’s no production that dates it to 2012. Go back and listen to Getcha Back from 1985’s The Beach Boys and you’ll hear that massive snare drum sound of so many songs of the era. I’m pretty sure there’s no auto-tune to be heard on this album.
The Private Life of Bill and Sue – Definitely one of my least favourite songs on the album. A little too islandy/Jimmy Buffet for my tastes, the lyrics are about a couple on a reality show (I think). It’s got the harmonies, but the song is just too trite for my taste.
Shelter – Take a listen and you’ll hear echoes of the Don’t Worry Baby drum beat on this track. It’s got a nice chorus, Foskett once again hitting the falsetto hook, with Mike taking a bass vocal in there. It sounds a little like an Under The Boardwalk rewrite in places, but it’s also got a very uplifting feel. Brian’s on the verses and he has fun with some tricky wordplay.
Daybreak Over The Ocean – Mike Love’s only solo writing credit on the album, this is a song that dates back more than 30 years but was never released. It’s another island flavoured tune, but it’s more digestible than The Private Life of Bill and Sue. Love’s lead vocal is strong, as are the harmonies, which is the only track to feature vocals from non-Beach Boys.
Beaches In Mind – Another fun pop song from the band. Great harmonies and hooks, but probably the least interesting track on the album.
The Suite (Strange World ->From There To Back Again->Pacific Coast Highway->Summer’s Gone): The highlight of the entire album, these 13-minutes are as gorgeous as anything the band has ever created. Melancholy lyrics, mournful voices – it’s what made so much of Pet Sounds a masterpiece. No longer boys, and with more days behind them rather than in front, this is grown men looking at mortality and the lives they’ve lived, couched in sonic ear candy. Special mention to Al Jardine’s vocals on From There To Back Again and Paul Mertens orchestration.
You can listen to a stream of That’s Why God Made The Radio here, but really, just go buy the cd or download it from iTunes. There is no way you’ll be disappointed.