Wednesday, August 01, 2012
The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio (2012), Best New Beach Boys Album in Forty Years
That's Why God Made the Radio
Based on the consistently disappointing new material by the Beach Boys over the last forty years since Holland,the long suffering Beach Boys faithful had no good reason to expect any different when, at the end of last year, it was announced that the surviving members had set aside their differences and that they would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the band in 2012 with a new album and a tour. Here's the pitch:
The fact of the matter is that the new album is not only good, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable listen; yes, all 38 minutes of it. There's not a bum track on the record. The Beach Boys were never this consistent even back when they were good. The album opens with "Think About The Days", a pastoral blend of voices accompanied by a nicely understated piano, forming a beautiful lead-in to the title track, and if there's a better summer single this year, I've yet to hear it.
Listen to "Think About The Days"/"That's Why God Made The Radio"
Photos courtesy of The Beach Boys
The next song is "Isn't It Time" which reminisces about the past in a good way (a recurring theme throughout the album), maybe not as self-referential as "Do It Again", but it feels good like that. It's also got a nice undercurrent of doo-wop, a little nod perhaps back to the time of the group's origin, simpler times indeed.
Listen to "Isn't It Time"
What's clear, three tracks in, is that the vocals are driving this bus, and they sound extraordinary. All the great pop and rock records including the early Beach Boys and the Beatles have been vocal driven and it's good to see the Beach Boys doing it so well, fifty years on. Among it's other charms, That's Why God Made the Radio adheres to the simple recipe of strong vocals, strong songs, and hooks galore.
Listen to "Daybreak Over The Ocean"
The credits show that Brian Wilson not only sang, but that he co-wrote all of the songs but one and that he co-produced the record, and while it would be nice to think that he was working like in the old days, if you've seen any of his live performances, you know that this is just not possible. Brian's presence on the stage at his shows, sometimes seems as much a prop as the keyboard he sits behind but never plays. His band sounds a lot like the Beach Boys in their prime, and while his often off key vocals don't help much, it is his very presence that prevents his band from being just a really talented Beach Boys cover band.
How much that dynamic applies to the recording of That's Why God Made the Radio is anybody's guess, but we subscribe to the belief that Brian's body of work with the Beach Boys in the sixties was genius, and that even after all the years and and all the psychiatric treatments, that he still hears music in his head and the Beach Boys have an organization of just the right people to turn these ideas into Beach Boys songs.
Start with the songwriting; the first behind the scenes hero has to be Joe Thomas. He co-wrote all but two songs, the majority of which are collaborations between him and Brian. Larry Millas and Jim Peterik also contributed to writing the first three tracks, and Mike Love wrote "Daybreak Over The Ocean" by himself. These songwriters, especially Thomas are key, for without good songs, this would be just another disappearing Beach Boys record.
There is one songwriter we haven't mentioned yet. "Summer's Gone" concludes the album beautifully, with a rich melody that comes closer than any other track to the Beach Boys' best work. It embodies all of the wistful emotions that the title suggests. This, most worthy addition to the Beach Boys catalog, was written by Brian Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Jon Bon Jovi.
Listen to "Summer's Gone"
With the songwriting in very capable hands, the other half of making this a great record was the production and the choices made here were as perfect as one could hope. Never sounding over-produced, each of the tracks got just the right arrangement and a delicate production touch. The vocal arrangements and performances are especially key to this sounding like a Beach Boys record, and the other behind the scenes hero would have to be Paul Fauerso. He did the vocal arrangements, keyboard arrangements, percussion arrangements and he also worked as producer and engineer.
Although Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson didn't live to see it, the reunion of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks in such a talented, friendly, and conducive recording environment is truly a gift. The songs may not reach the heights of "God Only Knows" or "Caroline No", but the fact that they even come close and that we have a new, listenable Beach Boys album in 2012 is nothing short of miraculous.
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