Beach Boys: That’s Why God Made the Radio
Beach Boys’ latest LP certainly packaged with good vibrations, but nothing more
Call it a miracle. A new album by the Beach Boys, especially with Brian Wilson in the hot seat, is something no one seriously imagined. The 1988 number one hit, “Kokomo,” was also something totally unexpected at the time. But as their fiftieth anniversary drew nigh, the senior citizens of surf made their way towards an assortment of recording studios to produce what strangely feels like 1965. That’s Why God Made the Radio plays with bits of Beach Boy nostalgia, from the dreamy, ethereal doo wop-inspired harmonies to their poetic catering to their Post-It reminders of their classics. (“Spring Vacation” rhymes “Spring vacation with good vibration” and “Daybreak Over the Ocean” traces the footprints of “Kokomo”) Although there’s nothing seriously ambitious here that rivals the experimental wizardry of the gigantic Smile Sessions (2011) box set, their vocals sound timeless, almost ageless when they play with happier times (“Spring Vacation”) or just serenading visitors with their gifted harmonization (“Think About the Day”).
The album very quickly falls into a somber mood of yesterday when the album’s doo wop-ish title track opens up the book of endless memories. This is the Beach Boys’ consecration to the perseverance of rock ‘n roll as they boldly interpret God blowing his breath into the genre and then saying “it was good.” It’s also their way of reaching out to younger audiences, whose possible recollection of them is through issues of Rolling Stone, history books or probably their grandparents’ dusty 45 rpm records. When the group tries to kick out a satisfying standout, such as “Strange World” or “Beaches in Mind,” they prance around some of their safest, MOR pop melodies imagined. And that is what hinders the album from ever being hailed as something spectacularly memorable.
But towards the end, Brian Wilson sews together two slow ballads to create an arty melancholy sunset. “Pacific Coast Highway” leaves Wilson dropping a sad and dying lyric: “Sunlight’s fading and there’s not much left to say.” When “Summer’s Gone” enters, the melancholy starts to takes its toil, when one of the final stanzas rings out with a protruding sadness, “We laugh, we cry/We live then die.” The sound of thunder and rustling wind in the far background are the last sounds heard on the disc. In those careful moments, in a world of uncertainty, the Beach Boys prove even in their senior years that their creative powers are still apparent and dexterous.
Still, That’s Why God Made the Radio feels slightly rushed in its assembly and lacks the creative juices of their glory days. And sure, some of the blame will fall on the fast-paced rush of today’s music business. While cooking up righteous records like Pet Sounds and The Beach Boys Today!, Wilson and the original beach buds (Mike Love, Al Jardine) were operating on lots of adrenaline and youth and even time to enforce their creative impulses. The environment lingering around them is being led by corporate contractual obligations, lots of supply-and-demand and probably some deep regret. For this batch of songs, time wasn’t considered. But give the album some credit: It’s a sweet memento and should rack up power points as the Beach Boys’ official tour souvenir for what could very well be their last roadshow. And while sunshine and fun may have opened up the album’s first half, rain and darkness canvasses the album’s other half, and actually is the album’s strongest point. It’s a sad way to describe what possibly could be the Beach Boys’ final goodbye.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 5 June 2012
- Label: Capitol
- Producers: Brian Wilson
- Spin This: “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” “Beaches in Mind”