originally posted on Saturday, 1 June 2013
With summer finally starting up to be in full swing, it has put me in the mood to do something a little different; review a Beach Boys album. The mood just caught me and I don’t see why not.
It’s undeniable that of all the bands that have come and gone in rock music since its inception, not many have been as important as the Beach Boys. Not officially the first “surf rock” band, but certainly the first to be internationally noticed with a string of hits over the course of just a few years before starting what would eventually become known as “Psychedelic Rock” with their then completely unheard of song structures in albums such as 1966’s Pet Sounds and 1967’sSmiley Smile.
When the 1970’s came, the Beach Boys unfortunately fell in to somewhat of a nostalgia act, with their new music not selling so well and relying on playing less and less new songs when playing live shows. Though the band continued to record and tour throughout the 70’s and 80’s, they only had a select few hits from otherwise unknown albums. Songs such as Kokomo or Getcha Back were recorded in this era but didn’t take the band out of nostalgia status.
A year ago this coming Wednesday, in honour of their 50th Anniversary, the Beach Boys released That’s Why God Made The Radio; their first new studio album of original material in twenty years, their last being 1992’s Summer In Paradise. Despite having been a touring band led by vocalist Mike Love, theBeach Boys haven’t been an official band with more than two original members since the early 1990’s, five of the surviving members reunited to celebrate half a century of recording music; beloved guitarist Al Jardine, the musical mastermind Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, who has been touring with Mike Love’s Beach Boys, and original guitarist David Marks who performed on the first four Beach Boy albums in Al’s absence. Brian Wilson’s younger brothers and original members Carl and Dennis are the only original members absent, both having been deceased since 1998 and 1983 respectively.
With this new album, the band has managed to capture the surf rock sound that they abandoned far back in the mid-60s and have successfully found their youth again as performers, for the most part sounding just as sharp as they did when they were in their 20’s. The album starts off with an introduction called Think About The Days. It doesn’t feature lyrics, but it does have Brian playing piano accompanied with vocal harmonies, showing listeners instantly that they haven’t lost their touch as singers.
The album continues in to a series of songs that could sound track a summer. The title track and Isn’t It Timeare the two singles released from the album, both songs having addictively fun melodies and a free feeling to them that could bring a smile to anyone’s face. Spring Vacation is a true anthem with a nice smooth sound to it that keeps the relaxing feel with vocals shared between Mike, Bruce and Brian. Beaches In Mind, heard later on the album, also shares the anthem sound
The Private Life of Bill and Sue has a unique honeymoon in Hawaii feel to it. It has a beat that can be danced to and just adds to the unique sounds heard all through the album. This song was among the few songs that were newly written specifically for this album, another one being Shelter. The chorus of the slightly slower paced song Shelter show that the band haven’t forgotten the essence of a good 1960’s summer love song, comparable to their classicDon’t Worry Baby, though Shelter is light-years away from being the classic that Don’t Worry Baby was.
Daybreak Over The Ocean, my personal favourite song on the album, is the slowest paced song on the album. It is the first song on the album to feature Mike As the primary lead singer, as it was originally recorded for his unreleased solo album. It has a similar feel to it that their classic track Kokomo has to it, in most part thanks to Mikes soothing and relaxing voice.
The song Strange World concentrates on the more musical aspects of the bands capabilities, as opposed to trying to make a song that sounds suitable for summer. They incorporate a noticeable percussion sound in the background to give the song a dramatic feel, but the vocals still give a good summer feel.
This song leads in to a musical suite. Something the band did, to much acclaim, on their revolutionary Pet Sounds album was end with three songs that that be played separately but were meant to be played together. From There And Back Again starts off this suite, and features Al Jardine on vocals for the first half and Brian on the second half. It is mostly piano driven but it’s the vocals that come across to its listener’s ears, as is the case for most Beach Boys. The suite continues with Pacific Coast Highway, which is just a simple minute and a half piano track that features Brian singing slightly depressing lyrics. This then leads to the suites conclusion, and subsequently the albums conclusion, in Summer’s Gone. The perfect title to end an album such as this that depicts what could basically be an entire summer. This track specifically was written around the deaths of Brian’s mother Audree and his brother Carl, which incorporate to the songs sort of sad feel. Generally I’d call a soft and slow track such as this an unwisely picked finale to the album, but considering how well of a job it does wrapping up the album (and highly likely the bands recording career in general) I can’t think of a better way to have ended the album.
The Beach Boys could have easily released some sort of compilation album for their reunion; they could have even put together an album of half-assed tunes just for an excuse to tour. But instead they took their time, and recorded easily their best album in over 30 years, showing that they are not just looking for an excuse to tour but also looking for one last attempt at making memorable songs. If this is the last album the band ever records, then it sure was the perfect way to end 50 years of recording music, with the album having gone top five.
This album does get a high rating in my books due to how seriously the process of the making of this album was taken as well as its reception and strong, professional and (obviously) mature musicianship that was put behind it by three Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who after all these years haven’t lost their touch. As well as the fact that the album as a whole is better than even some of the albums released even in their earliest most successful days.
For a better in depth (and slightly Hollywoodized) history of the Beach Boys, I recommend checking out the film The Beach Boys: An American Family to see depictions of many important and surprising moments in the bands early years.
“That’s Why God Made The Radio” – It’s not easy to pick a specific highlight. The anthem of Spring Vacation or the cheerfulness of Isn’t It Time all made for possible candidates, but for this album, the title track is the obvious choice (the first time I’ve selected a title track as the highlight). Having been written in the late 90s, the song was rightfully chosen to start off the album and introduce the continuing summer sound of the band, and it shows how the five (rather very old) men can still successfully and beautifully harmonize their voices like so many others have attempted and failed at. The breakdown of this song is among the best moments on the entire album and the song in general is a must listen for anyone who hasn’t heard the album yet and is curious as to how they still sound.
9 (Out of 10)
|“Think About the Days”||1:27|
|“That’s Why God Made the Radio”||3:19|
|“Isn’t It Time”||3:45|
|“The Private Life of Bill and Sue”||4:17|
|“Daybreak Over the Ocean”||4:20|
|“Beaches in Mind”||2:38|
|“From There to Back Again”||3:23|
|“Pacific Coast Highway”||1:47|