Saturday, June 2, 2012

Album review: Beach Boys, "That's Why God Made the Radio"

In 1985, The Beach Boys released a self-titled album. It was the first new record the group released since the drowning death of drummer and founding member Dennis Wilson.

It also was the last group album of new studio material to feature Brian Wilson in any sort of dominant fashion.

There came an album of odds and ends, called "Still Cruisin'." Then there was the studio disc (sans Brian) called "Summer in Paradise." Following that was the lamentable "Stars and Stripes Vol. 1" album that featured country stars singing the lead vocals, with backing vocals from The Beach Boys.

There were compilation albums, a live disc and an album of live and solo tracks released through Hallmark stores. Then came the wonderful "The SMiLE Sessions" materials.

But modern work, with all the surviving members, contributing actively (whether in songwriting or singing or playing)?

It's been a long time.

Carl Wilson died (cancer). Brian released several solo albums (some critically acclaimed, some pretty decent sellers in their own right). Mike Love and Bruce Johnston kept touring under the brand of The Beach Boys. Al Jardine toured and released a solo album. They were all doing good work, but fans worldwide hoped and wondered when a reunion would occur ... and what it would sound like.

It seemed like those hopes would remain just that ... hopes. Group members would talk about possible reunions, just to have other members shoot down the idea. While no one was particularly happy about the situation as it stood, it seemed they were equally unhappy about the steps necessary to repair their broken relationships.

That is, until this year's "That's Why God Made the Radio."

Well, it goes just a little before this year's new Beach Boys album. There was the appearance at The Grammys. Then there was the new version of "Do It Again." THEN there was the new single ("That's Why God Made the Radio") and their reunion tour.

And then, finally, a new album, consisting of original songs featuring the surviving group: Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks. (Johnston joined the group in 1965 as a touring member, and made his first vocal appearance on a group recording on "California Girls." David Marks played guitar on the first four Beach Boys albums, alongside friends and neighbors Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson.)

These men set their differences aside. They got together and made some music. They put together a new album. And what an album it is. It's already creating quite a buzz among reviewers and fans.

There are 12 songs on the record, and the styles range from "summer fun" to "'Pet Sounds' mood," with just about all the elements from most of the eras of The Beach Boys represented. Some have compared tracks to "Sunflower," and others have made comparisons to "L.A. (Light Album)," and it's all fair. We hear what we hear.

That is not to say that the group is coasting on its past or recycling itself. That is not at all true. The truth of the matter is the group consists of people with different tastes, and the music will reflect that. These are professionals, artists, who have grown and have refined their talents. There will be nods to the past, but they create very much in the present.

Take into account that the group wants a successful album (why wouldn't they?) and that the fan base is a varied lot of people (you have your "SMiLE" devotees, your "Pet Sounds" lovers, your "surfing and car songs" fans, your "give me the hits, don't need the deep cuts" listeners ... and your plain addicts, who want it ALL; I'd fall in that last category).

There's going to be a lot of expectations. There's a lot to prove. And you have living legends working together after years of lawsuits, acrimony and fragile communications. There isn't going to be a guarantee of success here. And it's all uphill, and you are not going to make everyone happy.

Stressful, right?

The guys manage to persevere, despite all of that. And they do it together.

While democracy can sometimes be doom to a band (and certainly The Beach Boys had a mixed bag when it came to piloting their own careers after Brian abdicated the producer's chair following the "SMiLE" recordings), in this case there was good teamwork. The guys brought the best out in each other.

Mike Love knows a hook better than anyone in history. He knows how to get those lyrics wedged in your head, even if you don't particularly WANT them there. Brian Wilson is probably the god of melody, and he can work himself into your heart and soul about as well as anyone who has ever lived. Al Jardine's voice has a punch and brightness to it that is as welcoming as it is encouraging. Bruce Johnston knows how to wring sweetness out of just about any note (hey, he penned a hit for Barry Manilow ... he knows what he's doing). David Marks is a hell of a guitarist, a man who branched out and sought proper education and mastered so many styles of music that his abilities on the instrument cannot be dismissed or ignored.

Throw in some of the best musicians of the last 20 years to work with Beach Boys material (including Jeff Foskett, Scott Bennett, John Cowsill, Scott Totten, members of the Wondermints and many others) to add the right touches to the music tracks and backing vocals ... and you have a tour de force of an album. This is not a Beach Boys cover band ... Ladies and gentlemen, these are The Beach Boys.

So, where Brian's solo music of the last several years has been by turns inspired and inspiring ... and yet has often lacked in the commercial hook department where Mike shined, this new music has a lot of Brian Wilson music with that Mike Love verve. This classic team still sounds good together. And the group's harmonies are just stellar. The songwriting credits may not be the most evenly shared (Jardine, Johnston and Marks don't have a credit there), but their voices are there ... leaping from the speakers.

This is progress, this is healing, and this is a hell of a good album.

"That's Why God Made the Radio" will be released in the U.S. on Tuesday, June 6. Fans in the UK get the treat a day earlier, on Monday. Hopefully, fans worldwide will run to their music stores or Amazon or download (legally) this new album and restore The Beach Boys to the charts. The album, and the group, deserves that much. Advance orders have been pretty strong, and some shipments are already starting to reach buyers (some orders have already been received).

So, what of the contents? What of the actual songs themselves?

Let's talk about 'em, shall we?

A lot of the songs derive from material Brian Wilson and producer Joe Thomas composed around 1998 during and after sessions for the "Imagination" album. Both Brian and Thomas have said in interviews that EVEN THEN, Brian was considering a lot of that material for a Beach Boys project.

(A brief aside: Thomas assisted with the project as a producer, though the album credits claim Brian is the producer and Mike is the executive producer. Thomas lent his hand on some of the touches throughout the album, which will no doubt incite some complaints from some. But whatever, if his inclusion on the project helped get the ball rolling and get this album created, great.)

So, some of the material isn't NEW new. But as it wasn't released -- or even finished -- before, these songs have a freshness and appeal that will attract more than just fans obsessed with unreleased material (a lot of Brian's previous albums recycled old unreleased material).

Mike Love's "Daybreak Over the Ocean" has been around for a long time, a track on unreleased albums of his that never got official release or promotion (but have trafficked heavily on bootleg and collector circuits for years now). It is the sole track that will be familiar to the most devoted of Beach Boys fanatics.

Now, for the fun part ... track-by-track thoughts on the material. Please keep in mind that these are just my impressions and opinions, and that my views on the tracks will evolve as I spend more time with them. I try to work some facts in, here and there, and you'll get some lyric snippets. But most of this is just how I feel about the songs, so continue with that in mind. And, as always, I welcome your input and impressions!

Think About the Days (1:27)

The album starts with a haunting piano theme, and then soaring harmonies. It's a wordless piece, but the singing is emotional and beautiful and evocative, channeling feeling that is both uplifting and sad (without being depressing).

One can't help but think of the fallen Dennis and Carl. The piano work sounds like something Dennis could have written, and the vocals all but ache with a power that Carl pulled off so well.

One yearns to hear Dennis and Carl on this track, which adds to the melancholy tinge of the piece. The title of the piece reflects that beautifully. This isn't "Pet Sounds" or "Friends," but it's pretty damn good ... it definitely recalls those harmony highs.

Many already compare this song to "Prayer"/"Our Prayer," the wordless invocation that began the "SMiLE" album ... but I think it is more in line with "One for the Boys," the vocal piece on Brian's first (self-titled) album. It doesn't sound like a "hymn" so much (as "Our Prayer" is sometimes described), but is more of a style pastiche that is rendered beautifully.

That's Why God Made the Radio (3:19)

The first single has been out for a while now, and a lot of folks have weighed in on it. I love it. Especially following "Think About the Days," it transitions from a thoughtful feeling to a more jubilant feeling. It's almost like a radio dial actually was turned and this ray of sunshine comes through.

As one of the 1998 songs, Brian apparently loved the sound of the track and wanted it used in a Beach Boys project. When the unfinished tune was played to the other members of the group, the response seems to have been uniformly positive ... even now, in interviews, all of the guys talk about the joy they have in listening to the song and singing it in concert.

It's pretty easy to see why they all love it. It is a harmony bonanza, and it has good feelings all around it. Sure, the "antennae" lyric is a bit dorky ... but that's one reason why it is so quintessentially Beach Boys. It's HUMAN. It isn't perfect, but it's charming. And the sound of the record is just so comfortable and warm.

This song wasn't the most commercial choice for a first single, but it may have done the best job of presenting the modern Beach Boys sound to listeners. It's a great track, for sure, and puts all of their voices out there beautifully.

Isn't It Time (3:45)

Now THIS is awesome. This will likely become the favorite track on the album for most listeners. The vocals are so upbeat. The handclaps, the ukelele, the bubbling/chugging bass line ... This has "hit" written all over it. And the voices! Brian starts it off, Mike takes it over, and you hear Al and Bruce throughout. Jeff Foskett helps out on the highest harmonies, all to a cumulative effect of WOW.

The lyrics are certainly tied to the shared history of The Beach Boys themselves, but it's also a call to fans (well, all listeners really) to have fun like we used to. Letting go of things, even just for a while. Not holding onto the negativity that we constantly carry.

The track does slow down for a moment while the lyrics get "real," but Mike's delivery (both calm and cool, while also somehow understanding and supportive) keep the track from petering out. And it sets up the dynamic when the main beat of the song resumes.

The overall feel is so ... peppy. It's FUN! It has a groove to it. The interlocking vocal parts are pretty dang nifty, and this track forces itself into the echelon of classic Beach Boys songs. After two strong songs, this track leaps out. One has to believe this song will be released as a single. It certainly SHOULD be. It's fantastic.

Spring Vacation (3:07)

Another peppy song, and the quality remains strong. The lyrics and delivery really reflect the stereotypical Mike Love approach (celebrating warmth and fun, and citing old songs ... note how "good vibrations" gets rhymed in, or how "I Get Around" is referenced). These are not bad things. Fun is good. It just is.

There's a universality to the feel of the song, while also containing plenty of personal references to Beach Boys history. And yeah, some of the lyrics are self conscious. At this point in my life, I refuse to engage in the "Brian vs. Mike" battles that fans have fought for years. The basic fact is that most fans weren't there, weren't involved. And those who were involved, well, it adds personal perspectives that are just that ... personal. There are shades of grey and points of view that vary, so ... Why point fingers? No one in the group is guiltless in the situations of their past, and no one is pure evil either. It's beside the point. The music is what matters. And while Love has contributed his share of corniness over the years, he's also penned some damn fine lyrics. The lyrics to this song really suit the mood of the song, and this has become one of my favorite songs of the disc.

It's a bit of a pep talk, but it's also a fairly amusing observational piece. "Looking ahead with anticipation / making each day a new celebration ..." And when Brian's voice picks up on the chorus, it's a blast. "Spring vacation, good vibration / summer weather, we're back together / easy money, ain't life funny / hey, what's it to ya? Hallelu-hoo-hoo-jah!" That "hallelujah" hook is GOLD. Pure gold. Brian sounds so good natured and happy singing it. It's a hook that sells the song in a way no straight delivery could.

And one can't help but feel the genuine feeling in lines like "As for the past, it's all behind us / happier now, look where love finds us / singing our songs is enough reason / harmony, boys, is what we believe in." As a devoted fan who has read a lot about this group's past and the struggles and lawsuits ... this stuff is a great balm, and it is even sung nicely. A song about the past that isn't a ballad or a dirge? Heck yeah!

The Private Life of Bill and Sue (4:17)

This song is a cousin to "Kokomo" and "South American" (the song from Brian's "Imagination" album). There's a Caribbean "Jimmy Buffett" kind of flavor to the track.

The subject matter? Fictional characters named Bill and Sue, former "stars" of a nonexistent reality TV show. (It also talks about the lengths people will go for ratings.) Topical! And quirky.

It's fun, while also addressing how people allow themselves to get wrapped up in totally meaningless and stupid materials. From coast to coast, in market stores and on TV, people get wrapped up in the drama and choices made by inconsequential people. Sure, it may sound a bit like it's a lecture in how I describe it, but it isn't ... not really. It's kind of observational. Plus ... this is a song that describes that. I mean, it's a pointless song about a pointless obsession with pointless people on a pointless reality TV show.

Isn't that awesome?!

I love the drums throughout (sounds like tympani rolls at points), and Brian's vocals convey some humor as well as selling the story. I'm not a big fan of the "announcer" bit on the fade, but it's fine. It works. It just isn't necessary. I guess it helps give a couple seconds more background on Bill and Sue, and takes the form of a broadcast in announcing their disappearance. Good enough.

It's a fun track, and it really grows on you with repeat listens. I wasn't big on it after my first few listens, but now I really enjoy it. Bits and pieces of the words pop into my head, and I hum the melody to myself. Earworm? Totally.

Shelter (3:02)

Some songs have such a Brian Wilson touch that no one else could have possibly written them. This is one of those. The phrasings, the topic matter ... this isn't just about finding a home. This isn't just about a warm place to sleep, or being safe from a storm. This is about shelter, and what shelter means to a person.

It's kind of like how Brian uses "mercy" as a more spiritual and necessary feeling, as strong if not stronger than love, that kind of support and understanding to get through things. Anyone could write about a house or home, or could have written about storms as allegory for life or something. But Brian? He wrote about the need for shelter. Awesome.

There's a slower approach in this song. It's a mellow, beautiful arrangement. The harmonies breathe, and Jeff Foskett makes his most dominant contribution to the album thus far with the high harmonies. And Brian picks up the pace in the lyrics, delivering the lines "summertime, make a few calls, make a little love" quickly, before wrapping up the line with "thank god for shelter."

Foskett comes in on "I'll give you shelter from the storm, and a house to keep you warm / I'll give you shelter through the night, and a chance to make this right." The others join in on the following "Do you ever still think of me and the way that we used to be? When the world was just you and me ... hanging out in our shelter." It's romantic without being precious, and emotional without being overwrought. This is a great track, certainly one of the best on the album. Brian has pointed it out as one of his favorites, too.

Daybreak Over the Ocean (4:20)

Mood is the big thing with this song. It's dense, the harmonies carry it nicely (I really dig the intro, which doesn't have a lot to do with the song itself .. but Al's voice is strong and pure in it) and the overall impression is peacefulness and serenity. It's Mike's baby from beginning to end.

I really like the percussive effect set from the beginning, and Mike paints a serene setting for the song. "The stardust sprinkles the morning" may not be the most profound lyric in the world, but it's got an openness that is almost childlike in innocence while also being beautiful. It's like a lullaby approach to love and two people being apart, but isn't childish.

This song would have been a glorious standout on "MIU," the album released in 1978 (and this song's origins come from around that time). And that's not a slam. While "MIU" is far from being my favorite Beach Boys album (it's one of my least favorite), the VOCALS on the album were pretty dang good. This song has such a powerful, flowing vocal approach. Mike doesn't sound like he's trying to be cheesy or sullen, he's just ... mellow. And mellow Mike Love deliveries are pretty dang great (see "Meant for You" from the "Friends" album).

This song wasn't an early favorite for me, but it's grown on me. The album needed a track JUST LIKE THIS to really put a Beach Boys stamp on the disc. It's got the ocean imagery, it's got the Mike Love vocal, it's got the "stereotypical" Beach Boys sound that seasoned their recordings from "MIU" onward (and really rose to the foreground on "The Beach Boys," "Still Cruisin'" and "Summer in Paradise." To exclude the song and the style it exhibits would have been dishonest, as that sound IS a part of the band's legacy ... and the track is a nice one, to boot.

Beaches in Mind (2:38)

This song took the longest to grow on me, and I'm still not a huge fan of it ... BUT ... This song gets stuck in your head. I've found myself singing the chorus while driving, and the singing here (as throughout the album) is insistent and sounds totally genuine. The lyrics would be corny (as would the use of "beaches"), except the delivery sounds so sincere, so honest.

Honesty plays a big part in the best Beach Boys recordings. When they weren't parodying themselves or trying to sound younger or hipper or whatever, The Beach Boys could really sell their songs and themselves with content they believed in. In their earlier driving songs, you could tell the guys really dug their cars (even if Roger Christian wrote the best car song lyrics). When the Beach Boys sang about wishing they all could be California girls, it wasn't just sloganeering ... they wanted those suntanned bodies and bikinis. And when the group sang of "Heroes and Villains," you could tell they dug the Western motif and wanted to play cowboys and Indians. Pretty much all of "Love You" is so convincing because it's all as true of Brian and his state of mind as anything they ever did.

And it's that honesty that sells "Beaches in Mind." The song deals with being overworked, tired, needing to get someplace so you can feel free. To drop those shackles and just enjoy yourself. It builds off themes presented in "Isn't It Time" and "Shelter," but in a more "get up and do it" kind of way. The lyrics aren't the world's best, but the delivery makes it work.

The backing track is pretty cool, very dense. Lots of weird bits popping up here and there. The more you listen to it, the more you can pick out the individual voices and inflections ... and they all really sound committed to the message. And it's propulsive! The song pushes you forward, it cooks! There's no going through the paces on this song, even if my first impression of the song was "oh, it's one of THOSE kind of songs." Give it a few listens before you allow any decisions to form, you might be surprised by how it grows on you.

Strange World (3:03)

I really like how this song starts out, with a solid piano intro. Then what sounds like synthesized flutes kick in, and a dominant drum thump introduces Brian's vocal. The content starts off observational, talking about all these different people around and how everyone manages to get through things.

In that sense, it feels like it's kind of a sequel, of sorts, to "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" from "Pet Sounds." It's about being apart from things while being a part of things. But it transitions to being very personal, an ode to a loved one. I really love the lyric "I can't imagine how life would be / if you were not here with me."

The chorus is so catchy, and there are so many dynamics to it. Right as a verse ends, another kicks in ... "Sunday morning, skies so blue / yo te amo means 'I love you'" may not be the most brilliant lyric, but it's so Brian. There are sound effects (note the bicycle bell that chimes after the "ride your bicycle anywhere" line), and the track builds up to a big, explosive "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" sound saturation. Powerful.

It sounds like a better-realized "Imagination" track, something that would thrive with radio play.

Here's hoping for that!

From There to Back Again (3:23)

The last three tracks form a suite ... and this suite is some of the best Beach Boys music made in the last 30 years, and ranks up with some of their best. It's not happy music. It's not necessarily sad music. It's reflective, it touches on those who have passed and how they are aging and couches it in mood (not moody) music. Like the tapestries woven in "Pet Sounds" or "Pacific Ocean Blue," there's sentiment and atmosphere and meaning that stand just as importantly as the lyrics ... while working with the lyrics.

Al Jardine sings the lead on most of this track, and he delivers the best lead vocal of the album. It's strong, pure, honest, tuneful. And when the group joins in ... wow. Gorgeous ... spiritual.

Fun is mixed in, there's celebration ... it's not all forlorn. It's an appreciation of life, of their past, all the ups and downs in it. And there are so many changes, so many bits and pieces, and those harmony swells ... Whew. Like the best songs on "Pet Sounds," and building on the power of Brian's "Midnight's Another Day" from his "That Lucky Old Sun" album without having the emotions so strongly thrust upon you, this track just feels genuine. True. The heart and soul of the group is here. 

This is a gem of a song, one of their finest ... I can listen to it over and over again and still feel wrapped up in it. One wishes for more lead vocals from Al after what he's able to accomplish here. And the twists and turns, and Brian's voice, and how all the voices work together for that gorgeous harmony ... it all forms such a soundscape that hits home. Perfect.

Pacific Coast Highway (1:52)

Deceptively simple sounding, instrumentally, but poignant beyond belief. It sounds like it could have been a Dennis Wilson outtake. That rush of vocals at the beginning is lush beyond words, but not overpowering. Just ... pure.

"Sometimes I realize my days are getting on / sometimes I realize it's time to move along / And I want to go hoooooo-oooome .... Sunlight's fading and there's not much left to saaaaaay ..."

My god. There's so much emotion in the singing, the track is so exquisitely constructed, and the lyrics are simple and heartfelt. Then comes the hammer: "My life, I'm better off alone ... my life, I'm better on my own."

The next line can be taken straight, or can be seen as allegory for the journey of their lives ... "Driving down Pacific coast out on Highway 1, the setting sun ... good bye ...."

If you listen to the song "Southern California" on "That Lucky Old Sun," Brian conjures so much emotion and feeling in reminiscing and talking about life. In less time and fewer words, that heartfelt impact is delivered on "Pacific Coast Highway."

"Pacific Coast Highway" is direct, simple, and so unbelievably moving. It's the shortest part of the suite, but is perhaps the most powerful. It ranks up there with some of the most beautifully rendered music of the group's career.

Summer's Gone (4:40)

According to interviews with Joe Thomas and Brian Wilson, "Summer's Gone" was one of the 1998 tracks that Brian intended for a Beach Boys project. It was to be the final song on (conceivably) their final album. And if "That's Why God Made the Radio" is their last album, the song is a fitting way to end the album and a truly perfect way to end the group's recording career.

It sounds almost like a song you'd sing to a child, at first ... It's a slow song, almost like "Caroline, No" from "Pet Sounds." Every word is conveyed with directness and clarity, and the music and words are tied together so well. Actually, the track itself has an atmosphere and pacing very comparable to "Caroline, No" without being a direct ripoff.

The track starts off with what sounds like wind chimes, and then some keyboards come in that are almost "SMiLE"-esque. The volume builds and different melodies emerge that work together. Then Brian's vocal enters: "Summer's gone, summer's gone away ... " The group joins in: "gooooone awaaaaaay." Brian: "With yesterdaaaaay." Group: "Aaaaaaaahhhh."

It's ... I don't know how many positive adjectives I can dig up for this. It's hard to be objective about this song. Many may find it derivative of earlier works, and the lyrical matter continues to follow the vein set by "From There to Back Again" and "Pacific Coast Highway," but the emotional investment in the vocals and the perfect bed provided by the instrumentation here ...

It's sublime. It's really, truly sublime.

"Old friends have gone ... they've gone their separate ways ... our dreams hold on ... for those who still have more to say." These are THE BEACH BOYS. Have they ever been so beautifully direct, so simple and yet poignant?

You feel their age. These guys are in their 70s and late 60s. Dennis and Carl have died (1983 and 1998, respectively). Friends have passed away. Peers have passed away. Competitors have passed away. Some remain, sure, but no one lives forever and there's more road behind them than in front of them. They sing of this with such candor, and with such lack of anger or fear or depression. They face their eventual end. It's not strictly sad (though there is some sadness to it) ... it's calm. Comforting. Understanding. "Another summer gone." Vocal parts swell, the instrumental arrangements pop in and the words weave around all of it. "We laugh and cry, we live and die / and dream about our yesterday." (With Brian being the last Wilson brother, one can't help but feel emotional when applying this lyric to his dead brothers.)

And the track ends with the instrumentation trailing off, the percussion and strings giving way to the sound of rain ... The world turns, seasons change, rain washes away the old and nurtures the new, nature moves it forward.

What a beautiful, beautiful ending. And what a wonderful way to tie up the package and bookend the album with the lead track to create an emotional cycle.

Those last three tracks are some of the best songs the group has put together. Not just for this album. Not just in 30 years. This is some of their best music. Ever.

Overstating things, perhaps? No. I really don't think so. To claim anything on this album is better than "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "God Only Knows" or "Good Vibrations" or "Surf's Up" or "Surfer Girl" would be wrong ... but none of these songs NEED to beat those songs. None of these songs are trying to be THOSE songs. These are the songs of The Beach Boys, today. This year. 2012. Older. Perhaps wiser. Certainly aware of what they once did, and bearing the scars of their past. They are not young men, fresh and willing to redefine music. The competitive drive, the experimentation, it's not as strong as it used to be. They don't need to craft another "Pet Sounds." They already did that. 

With so many great songs, "That's Why God Made the Radio" is a surprise of an album. No fans had any realistic right to expect an album this good. If fans are honest with themselves and each other, it'd be fair to expect a couple of good songs, some pleasant sounds and a decent amount of filler. And probably a clunker or two (or three). Instead, the group has presented such a strong set of songs that get the toes a-tappin', that insinuate themselves into your head and force humming, and that draw upon real emotion. 

There are 12 songs here. A dozen new tunes. None of them are garbage. Some are fun, some are reflective. Some inspire, others comfort. There are profound lyrics and dumb lyrics. All of these things illustrate the essence of The Beach Boys, and their importance. 

What the future holds now, who knows? Maybe the album will be a tremendous success. When the group appeared on QVC, it supposedly helped that channel sell 14,000 copies of the album. The disc is trending well on, and at the time of this writing is #7 in music, #6 in rock music and #6 in pop music. The first single has charted in Japan (according to Billboard), and the group has appeared on so many late-night shows that there's no way anyone can be unaware of the reunion. Then, there's the Walmart-only release of a zinepak that has been selling well (and is commanding some decent cash on eBay and Amazon). And the tour is generating great reviews and large audiences. 

Maybe all of this will stimulate the band and more music will be forthcoming. Or maybe the demand for material will convince the group to dive into the vaults and release some of the goodies that have been stashed away for 50 years.

Or maybe it won't.

This is the year of The Beach Boys. Forget the past "Brian is Back" campaigns. Set aside the "Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE" hoopla. Forget the Team Brian vs. Team Mike garbage in books, videos and message boards. Don't dwell on Al's expulsion from the group in the 1990s. That's all very real, and has important aspects on the group's story. But it's not important to this album. It isn't the point. 

With open minds and open ears, let yourself enjoy the music of these legends, these musicians, these artists ... Let the music of America's Band evoke those memories of a glorious past had and give hope for the future that lies ahead. Let the groove of "Isn't It Time" move your feet. Sing along with "That's Why God Made the Radio." Let the closing suite touch your heart. It isn't "California Girls" or "Barbara Ann" or "Kiss Me, Baby" or "The Little Girl I Once Knew." It's just great music, beautiful music.

It's music that should be celebrated, for it is great on its own merits. It lives for today and gives yesterday its due. It's not nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. It's good music, with harmony and sincerity and feeling.

The Beach Boys are back, and they sound so good.


  1. The more I listen to the album, the more other thoughts come to me.

    First, those last three songs are pretty amazing for more than just the emotional depth. They are fairly unconventional song constructions.

    Rather than rely on things like verse-chorus-verse setups, it's a lot more liberated than that. The songs just kind of progress, going where Brian wants to take them. Different melodies, different chords, and it all segues so beautifully.

    With "Pet Sounds," a lot of the songs follow conventional song structures but emotion dictated the progressions. And with "SMiLE," the modular recording style allowed Brian and the group to make surprise turns and explore. These last three kind of merge both paths, for beautiful effect.

    That is not to compare these songs to "Pet Sounds" or "SMiLE." I'm just trying to describe the style of the songs.

    Second, as great of an album as this record is, it is not their best album. It's pretty dang great, but it won't overtake such greats as "Pet Sounds," "Sunflower," "SMiLE," "Today!," or even "Surfer Girl."

    I think it stands just as well as "Love You," "Holland," "Friends" and "Smiley Smile." "That's Why God Made the Radio" is the band's 29th studio album, and it's better than any of their albums after 1977's "Love You."

    Take the best harmony bits of "Friends," "Sunflower" and "MIU," throw in some of the pop from songs like "Getcha Back" and the style and depth of albums like "Pacific Ocean Blue" and "That Lucky Old Sun" and ... well, you get close to this album.

    Third, The Joe Thomas touches (hints of "Imagination") are certainly there, but they aren't blunt or clunky. It's more of a surface veneer, not overwhelming the actual content.

    Whereas "Imagination" was pretty slick, with nylon-string guitar flourishes and easy listening smoothness, "TWGMTR" provides a comfortable atmosphere and lets the voices and songwriting develop the album. So you'll occasionally hear a nylon-string guitar, or you'll get some Adult Contemporary drum sounds, but they never get in the way of the songs.

    Fourth, while a lot of different people are co-writers on these different songs, the songs are in no way watered down or weakened by all those sources of input. Rather, it may have helped bolster the strength of the songs.

    Rather than go for the easy rhymes or the "clever" witticisms, or going for the overwrought or vague, these songs tend to come across as fairly direct and pleasant tunes. So there are no "Summer of Love" or "Brian's Back" tunes, but there also are no "Lay Down Burden" or "Let It Shine" songs.

    I'll have to live with the album for a few weeks/months/years to really give this a proper assessment, to rank it in the heirarchy of Beach Boys albums ... But it really is better than I could have hoped, it is definitely better than I expected, and half of the songs are truly, truly great. Another three are good songs, and the remaining three aren't bad (they're pretty pleasant).

    It's been a long time since a Beach Boys album could claim that kind of consistent quality. It's a joy of a record to listen to, and I hope a lot of people give it the chance it deserves.

  2. When I listen to the record, I can really hear elements of "Friends," "Sunflower," "MIU," "L.A. (Light Album)," and some "Pet Sounds" on the last track.

    It's just really great to hear those voices, doing those harmonies, and with material that is actually worth listening to.

    It's got a lot of the great vocals from "Friends" and "MIU," it's got some great team flow and vibe from some tracks from "Sunflower" and some of the pep and production reminiscent of "L.A. (Light Album)."

    The album stands by itself, and it's a joy to hear. It'll definitely be my summer soundtrack!

  3. From a forum I visit, here's an interview with producer Joe Thomas. He discusses the new album and its origins.

  4. share mp3s please?

    1. I don't provide mp3s or downloadable music. Sorry.

  5. The new Album comes out in a month and i think it will do so much better than their last effort, Summer in Paradise.They are on tour at the moment in the USA .. They sound really really good for a band where all the members are around 70 years old.

    1. The new album came out today in the US, and I read that fans in the UK could get it yesterday. I do hope the album surpasses "Summer in Paradise" and "Stars and Stripes Vol. 1," as the album definitely deserves to do well. :)

  6. The Beach Boys' new album has risen to No. 1 on Amazon. That's pretty damn impressive! Let's hope this helps carry the album to the official charts.

  7. Thanks for the best review of the album I've read (and I've read a lot), I also think this is a very, very good album and I'm very happy that the album is selling so well.

  8. Wow, thank you for the very nice compliment Enrique (Spain). I appreciate it. :)

    While the new album seems to be slowly slipping down the charts, I think it says a lot that they're still in the Top 50 a month after the album was released. Great music shines through!

    Hope to see you more around these parts!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...