THE long-awaited reunion of Brian Wilson with Mike Love’s Beach Boys is a pleasant moneyspinner with an undercurrent of sadness for lost youth
THE BEACH BOYS: THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO
With Brian Wilson sufficiently rehabilitated in recent years by a loving family, supportive band and the healing balm of his own marvellous music, the predictable next step in his career revival was to regroup with the band who made his name as a songwriter and composer of, many would have it, godlike talent.
Conveniently, The Beach Boys are also celebrating their 50th anniversary round about now, and where there’s surf, there’s brass. Hence what would appear to hardcore Wilsonites as the reunion of the genius and the journeymen – cousin Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, the guitarist/backing vocalist who was briefly a Beach Boy in the early days and is probably just happy to be here.
Who knows what his late brothers Dennis and Carl would make of this enterprise? In contrast to the sweetness and light portrayed on the frothier surfaces of their back catalogue and on this anodyne album, The Beach Boys’ history is sour and dark, requiring a lot of pain – not to mention litigation – to pass under the bridge.
They at least begin by doing what they do best, weaving heavenly high harmonies together on the wordless intro track Think About The Days, with the fabulous Jeffrey Foskett from Wilson’s band deputising for Carl on the more stratospheric notes.
However, the opening lines of the title track confirm that the 21st-century Beach Boys will simply be defaulting to more songs about cars and girls. That’s Why God Made The Radio is the latest in a long line of songs Brian Wilson claims is the best he has ever written. Although it turns out to be one of the better tracks here, it is representative of the album as a whole in its Disneyfied depiction of Beach Boys World, where the music never stops, the sun never sets and the girl always wants to hold your hand.
For all their musical singularity, The Beach Boys were never particularly subversive. Their strength was in capturing the youthful aspirations of their peers and providing the soundtrack to that party. Now it appears their function is to provide a rheumy-eyed recollection of those carefree days for all their contemporaries in the care home.
In doing so, they remain safely within their comfort zone – both geographically, with mentions of the Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica pier, and musically, with a flaccid rendering of the classic Beach Boys sound from the sighing harmonies to the twinkling vibraphone.
Wilson cleaves to the old imagery like a comfort blanket. “We used to get around… good vibrations, summer weather” he sings on Spring Vacation – gee, how long did it take to come up with that one? But then he follows this lazy throwback with the candid admission that “we’re back together, easy money”. Did Wilson just sing that out loud? Aye, there’s the rub.
The Private Life Of Bill And Sue at least makes an attempt to engage with something a little more timely. Wilson reportedly used to watch a ton of television during his limbo years but this pseudo-satire on reality TV is folksy, toothless fare and its faintly bittersweet ending is virtually inaudible.
There are glimpses of the old chemistry – a flash of lovely melody on the refrain of Shelter (more or less lifted from the infinitely superior Darlin’), the melancholy tone of Strange World, undercut by such banal observations as “you can drive your car to the county fair or ride your bicycle anywhere”, and the multi-part doo-wop intro to the otherwise twee Daybreak Over The Ocean, which was originally recorded by Mike Love in the late 70s for a solo album that was never released – but these are only fleeting echoes of a more glorious past.
The wistful closing suite of three songs – From There To Back Again (beautifully sung by Jardine), Pacific Coast Highway and Summer’s Gone, co-written with that renowned beach bum Jon Bon Jovi – is the best thing here, though nothing that Wilson hasn’t at least equalled on his recent run of solo albums.
In a rare moment of clarity, he cuts to the heart of the matter on the valedictory Pacific Coast Highway with the sad but true observation that “sunlight’s fading and there’s not much left to say… my life, I’m better on my own”. As the album fades out on the lapping of waves on the shore, it is too tempting to equate this with the tide going out on the creativity that made The Beach Boys such a vibrant, crucial and magical force in popular music.
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