Monday, June 4, 2012
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BEACH BOYS - THAT'S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO
Right from the start, a new album was part of the plan. The Beach Boys haven't made one since 1996, but having Brian Wilson on board meant it was possible, as he's put out several in the past decade. The good news? Looks like Brian was handed complete control, as producer, main songwriter, and lead singer on half the cuts. Or rather, you'd think that's good news. Unfortunately, he came to the plate without much good material. An old collaborator, Joe Thomas, who worked with Wilson on his 1998 Imagination album, came back as his co-writer, and the guy has never impressed me too much, he's too middle-of-the-road. His contributions here don't sound like Beach Boys songs, or much like Brian Wilson songs either, which would be fine if they were special. Unfortunately, the tunes aren't, especially The Private Life Of Bill And Sue, a commentary on reality TV stars.
There's little great vocal magic either, which is more surprising. When the harmonies get added, you do feel a bit of the old fun, but the songs don't always lend themselves to rich vocals. I'd say Brian had a limited amount of material, and simply went with what he had in the bank, which means nobody was standing up to him to say it wasn't good enough. Certainly not Mike Love, who is no doubt thrilled that it happened at all, as The Beach Boys brand (which he controls) has been steadily losing steam the past decade. Love actually takes less lead vocals than I thought he would, given that he sang so many of the classic hits, and he wrote less than I'd imagined he would. Umm, that's probably good though; what he does contribute are simple variations on the "Do It Again" theme, so obvious and painful. A sample: "Spring vacation/Good vibrations/Summer weather/We're back together."
It's not a total loss. I like the lead single, the title cut, one of the few times the vocals soar, the lyrics don't suck, and Wilson brings in some interesting melodic shifts along the way. The real gem is called From There To Back Again, where Wilson rekindles his spark, something he usually can do a couple of time each solo album. This, and the two songs that follow, which are linked and also quite good, recall the environmental and spiritual music the group did in the early 70's, a well-performed suite of songs that deserves a better fate than ending a weak effort. Given Wilson's age, and his very active last decade, plus the major commitment of this months-long anniversary tour, I think he simply bit off more than he could chew, and was willing to settle for whatever could be done.