Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made The Radio

I'm not an impartial observer here. I'm a California boy and I grew up listening to the Beach Boys (even though, as a child of the 70s, I discovered them late, during my sophomore year in high school). So yeah, I've had all those classic melodies ingrained in my brain for 35 years, now.

They've had their ups and downs, for sure. For every "20/20", there was an "M.I.U. Album". And for every "Caroline, No" there was a "Kokomo." Not that "Kokomo" was a bad song... but it was a Mike Love song, and Love's writing, no matter its merits, has always paled in comparison to the master, Brian Wilson.

Wilson's return is the big story here. Brian hadn't really recorded with the group since about 1979, during the "L.A. Light Album" sessions. His breakdown and retreat from life has been well-documented elsewhere, so I won't go into hit here; suffice to say it took Brian quite a long time to come back to the world, but when he did, it was with a vengeance. He's release half a dozen solo albums in the last 10 years, each progressively better than the last, but his return to the Beach Boys (who, themselves, haven't recorded since 1992's disastrous "Summer In Paradise") marks the completion of a long, long journey.

Having Brian back means a return to the lush, intricate, layered harmonies that marked the group's classic days. But while the sound is rooted in the 60s, the material definitely isn't - you can't go 40 years and be unaffected on the far end. So while the guys sound like the surfers of old, the subjects of their songs are decidedly different. Instead of pursuing love, they're saving it. Instead of exploring, they're remembering. Older and wiser, indeed. Brian Marks also returns, an original band member who missed the big time but got to be part of the band after waiting 50 years.

Brian's songs are the killers here. The nostalgic title track is, naturally, the one Capitol led with; "Spring Vacation" is much in the same vein, an autobiographical look at the group's reunion that's singalong ear candy. But the killer is the gorgeous, soaring "Shelter", worth the price of admission all by itself. "Strange World' is Brian's take on what he found when he emerged from his 30-year cocoon, and "Daybreak Over The Ocean" is Mike Love's shining moment in the sun - just the right touch of longing and peaceful contentment to complement his distinctive vocals.

Is "That's Why God Made The Radio" a perfect album? No. But, in 2012, it's about as perfect a slice of Sixties sunshine pop as we're going to get. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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