Brian Wilson never ceases to amaze me. His musical talents are a given, what continues to knock me out is how he has managed to keep “coming back” over and over again. After the notorious psychological meltdown he had during the original Smile sessions, a lot of people had written him off as a casualty of the '60s. He occasionally surfaced in the '70s, along with a big promotional push from the record company to the effect of “Brian’s back!” Say what you will about albums such as 15 Big Ones (1976) or L.A. (Light Album) (1979), but they were certainly not Pet Sounds (1966).
Then in 1988, something completely unexpected happened. He released his first solo album, titled Brian Wilson. While the sound of '80s electronics badly dates it, there were some fantastic songs on this record, including “Love and Mercy,” “Melt Away,” and the closing “Rio Grande” suite. He continued his comeback in the following years with more albums, and even began touring again.
Then in 2004, came one of the most astounding releases in rock history. Twenty-eight years after beginning Smile, he completed it. I do not know of any fan who ever expected Brian to actually finish and release Smile. It was truly an event. While the new Beach Boys album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, is not quite as big a shock, it is another recording I never thought would happen. The arguments between Wilson and Mike Love seemed to preclude them ever working together on a “real” new Beach Boys project ever again.
Yet, here it is. And I must say, it is very good. One of the big surprises for me were the co-writing credits between Love and Wilson (among other collaborators). There is also a song credited solely to Love, “Daybreak Over the Ocean.” Then there are the vocals, which are the biggest asset the album has. Even with Brian’s brothers Dennis and Carl gone, the blend of the voices of Al Jardine, Mike Love, and Brian Wilson somehow retain that hallmark Beach Boys sound.
The album opens with “Think About The Days,” which is a one minute and 27 second introduction featuring the harmonies of the group with a gentle piano behind them. It does a marvelous job of setting the tone of wistfulness which permeates the album. Next is the title track, and it has everything a great Beach Boys song should have. A terrific melody, those lovely harmonies, and lyrics which reference something Brian has cherished all his life, the AM radio he listened to while growing up in Hawthorne, CA.