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The Beach Boys, ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’ – Album Review

Capitol Records

Fifty years on from their debut album, ‘Surfin Safari,’ the promise of the Beach Boys making a definitive masterpiece of some sort seems not only unlikely, but impossible. To be honest, the odds of them even making a ‘good’ album were stacked against them, but let’s roll the dice, turn it up, and see what we’ve got.

The album opens with a gorgeous a capella beckoning titled ‘Think About The Days’ that is similar to, of all things, ‘Our Prayer’ from ‘SMiLE.’ This short invocation is soon followed by the album’s first single, ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio,’ which, while more or less being a slightly updated take on an early-’60s style ballad, is not without its charms. An irresistible chorus and striking chord changes make it a winner. ‘Isn’t It Time’ has a quality that rings bells similar to the classic ‘Friends’ era of the band. Minimal percussion and classic Beach Boys harmonies sail this along perfectly. We’re off and running, and on a roll!

Unfortunately, things take a tumble into bland sand by the fourth track, ‘Spring Vacation,’ which reeks of lame mid-’70s middle of the road LA studio whiz crap. Things stay in the generic muck with ‘The Private Life Of Bill And Sue,’ which, despite a catchy chorus, has nothing to offer. ‘Shelter’ follows the same slick path.

By ‘Daybreak Over The Ocean,’ the seventh song, things are looking up a bit, returning to the ‘Friends’ vibe again with some classic harmonies and yet another catchy chorus. The glory is short-lived as we sink back into the muck with ‘Beaches In Mind,’ a fairly pathetic glass of nostalgia that does nothing to quench one’s thirst. ‘Strange World,’ though slightly better, ends up sounding like a leftover from Brian Wilson‘s 1988 solo debut.

Then, just as we are about to pack it up and write it off, hold on…what’s this? It sounds like we are back on track big time! The three songs that end the album help restore the faith.  ‘From There to Back Again,’ ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ and ‘Summer’s Gone’ all shine brightly and basically rescue the album. Though not exactly a ‘suite,’ they do kind of tie the whole thing together. Beautiful Brian melodies, sparse instrumentation with the vocals taking center stage, supplying a sweet summer ambiance that is classic Beach Boys.

Brian’s vocals on these sound particularly focused and in the pocket. ’Summer’s Gone,’ sounds and feels like not only the perfect end to the album, but also the perfect punctuation at the end of a fifty year sentence. It has that certain sadness of vintage songs like ‘Caroline, No,’ or ‘The Lonely Sea,’ and even carries the lyric ‘it’s time to go.’ A fitting way to end the album and, perhaps, their career. It has that sublime beauty that only Brian Wilson can summon up and best of all, it avoids cliche, opting to just be a beautiful song. During it’s long fade out, the sound of waves carries us off into the sunset.

The meancholy side of summer wins out over the fun, fun, fun which, at this point in their story, makes perfect sense. Ultimately, the start and the end more than make up for the duds in the middle. In 2012, we shouldn’t have expected the Beach Boys to deliver anything nearly this good which, to quote Chuck Berry, goes to show you never can tell.

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