Wednesday, June 6, 2012

That's Why God Made The Radio

This is the The Beach Boys comeback album many would come to expect. Their first in almost twenty years, this is a very safe, very listenable, almost formulaic record, not that there's anything wrong with that. Don't go in expecting a Pet Sounds or Smile type of incarnation. But at the same time, don't go in thinking this is some sort of full-on nostalgic trip. The album starts out with a solemn wordless mediation, reminiscent of Our Prayer, with piano. From here on out, the mood is pretty upbeat. The single and title track sounds like it could've come out of the '60s, though it can't hold a candle to their hit singles of that era.  

Isn't It Time incorporates sparse percussion, and has Mike Love, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine trading off verses. It's catchy as hell, and so is the following Spring Vacation, though its cheery lyrics are a bit on the cheesy side. There's a little line in the chorus about them getting back together for 'easy money'. I guess it's partly true in a way; you can't dismiss the fact that the green plays a large part in old bands reforming today.

The Private Life Of Bill And Sue reminds me of Brian Wilson's solo records, something he would've put on 1998's Imagination. The positive, joyous summer mood continues with Shelter, featuring co-lead vocals from long-time collaborator Jeff Foskett, who sounds most like the late Carl Wilson, who still leaves a gaping hole in the band's harmonies today. It's not hard to believe they still sing so good after all this time, but you can hear quite a bit of auto-tuning and stuff like that done to make the production very sleek and modern, sometimes to a point it makes my skin crawl. I prefer the production of Brian Wilson's past few solo records, especially 2004's Smile, where it was more organic-sounding.

Halfway through however, the album takes a slight hit; Mike Love's Daybreak Over The Ocean and Beaches In Mind sound inferior to the first half of songs. The mood then takes a sudden turn into more reflective, with Brian singing on Strange World. The man can write some of the happiest lyrics and melodies you'll ever hear, and at the same time some of the most depressing, sometimes almost devastating. His talent is evident in the last three songs, which lift this whole record above mediocrity. They form some kind of suite, and together they result in the best music The Beach Boys have ever done. Period. It starts From There To Back Again, my favorite song on the album, with its unconventional, Surf's Up kinda structure. Al Jardine is the best vocalist in the band now, and he nails it so heartbreakingly perfect here. His voice remains remarkably unchanged since the '60s.

The short but sweet Pacific Coast Highway could be a tribute to Dennis Wilson, the first Beach Boy to pass away. It segues into Summer's Gone (co-written with Jon Bon Jovi, out of all people), which really hits right in the saddest spot of your heart, like how you felt when you heard Carolina, No at the end of Pet Sounds. I like that the record ends this way, not on a celebratory note. I mean, the band is well into their early '70s, and they must be constantly subjecting themselves to their own mortality. Nevertheless, they're in a privileged position right now and I think they got about two more albums left in them.

"Summer's gone/It's finally sinking in/We laugh and cry/We live, then die/And dream about our yesterdays" 

I'm really looking forward to their reunion concert in August. I've been wanting to see Brian Wilson and his band live for the longest time, and having the remaining band members onstage is a huge bonus. My God, fifty years!