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Music Review: The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio

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The Beach Boys have reached the 50 year milestone in their career. To commemorate that achievement, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks have reunited for an extended tour and the release of a new studio album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, which is currently scheduled for an early June release.

The album demonstrates that The Beach Boys are alive and well, at least in the studio. Brian Wilson has reassumed his leadership in the studio as producer, and songwriter as he co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks. The best news is he kept his grandiose impulses under control, which allowed the band to reach back in time and create an album of simple but enjoyable music. The melodies are catchy and straightforward, while the lyrics tell simple stories similar to their early career material.

The lead vocals may show the wear and tear of the past half century, but the harmonies are tight and exquisite. If there is one thing Brian Wilson has always been able to do, it’s blend the individual voices of The Beach Boys into a virtual choir that has been and remains unique in American music history. In many ways these new harmonies are the centerpiece of this release.

The music and vocals are centered primarily around the five Beach Boys. The only additional musicians are their long-time guitarist Jeff Foskett and drummer John Cowsill, who has been touring with Mike Love’s edition of the band. Adrian Baker and Christian Love provide backing vocals on one track and the rest is all the band members.

The album’s first track, “Think About The Days,” establishes the fact that The Beach Boys have returned. It begins with the five voices united in a cappella harmony. A simple piano enters as the song flows gently along. There are no words but only vocal sounds.

The title song, lyrically and emotionally, is about capturing memories. It features a simple instrumental background with a heavy bass and drum backbeat. The lyrics may be a little self-indulgent in places, but the harmonies more than make up for it, which allows it to emerge as a track that would fit in with their better material.

“Spring Vacation” is an ode to themselves as Wilson and Love share the lead vocals. The lyrics express their happiness of being back together and it’s been  decades since the Beach Boys issued a happy song. “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” features Wilson’s plaintive lead vocal with a ska/reggae beat in support. Both of these songs are probably the most sophisticated musically as the various instruments weave in and out and then combine in unique ways.

“Beaches In Mind” has a Mike Love lead vocal but it is the repetitive chorus with the united voices that is memorable.

The final three tracks are a loosely united trilogy of the band looking back while accepting the present. “From There to Back Again” is a nostalgic ballad of looking back when life was spread out in front of them. “Pacific Coast Highway” is a nostalgic and reflective look at life from the present. “Summer’s Gone,” with Brian Wilson’s sad vocal, brings the album to a conclusion as it’s time to go.

I have seen The Beach Boys in concert four times and bought all of their studio releases. Their generation has aged gracefully in some ways but ungracefully in others, so I am willing to overlook a few flaws as this may be the last Beach Boys studio album. It is one to savor as one tries to catch a final glimpse of the endless summer.

It may not be as good as their best early career material but it is excellent in its own right and place in time. It is representative of their sound and that alone makes it an album worth owning. Fifty years have passed and The Beach Boys may not pass this way again.

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About David Bowling

  • Patrick

    I gotta agree and disagree in part. I think “That’s Why God Made the radio” may be one of Brian’s best efforts. Pretty good at 70 years old. There’s nothing bad on the album, some are just better than others. Mike Loves “Daybreak over the ocean” is clearly his best solo piece of work. And I’m not a Mike Love fan. But really, go back. Listen to “Shelter”.