The Beach Boys
That’s Why God Made the Radio
Aug 09, 2012 Web Exclusive
Every band has a choice: break up or get old. Breaking up means no more music. Getting old means making music people will probably stop caring about.
Somehow, over the course of their 50-plus year career, The Beach Boys have managed to do both. The band lost members (due to creative differences or death) throughout the 1970s, found a #1 hit with the by-all-accounts awful "Kokomo" in 1988, finally becoming basically a Full House side-project and band "most likely to tour with Jimmy Buffet." It was quite the fall for the band that made Pet Sounds.
But in 2012, the original line-up (including pop wunderkind Brian Wilson) has reunited for a tour and an album, That's Why God Made the Radio. The album, the band's 29th (!) studio recording, debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts and got some serious buzz, thanks to Wilson's involvement and a stellar lead single in the title track.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, too much of That's Why God Made the Radio sounds like a group of older people trying to cover The Beach Boys. When they let their guard down and make music as, well, elderly Beach Boys, the album shines—sadly, that's only a third of the album.
First, the great stuff: You've already heard the title track, which sounds cheesy until the irresistible chorus takes off and reminds you how good the Boys can harmonize. The opening orchestral number sounds as lush and poignant as anything off of Pet Sounds or SMiLE. And the final four tracks—"Strange World," "From There to Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway," and "Summer's Gone"-are uniformly wonderful. Each track sounds like a band coming to grips with their age, looking at their lives, achievements, and how bittersweet nostalgia can be. It's not an overstatement to say these songs are successors to Beach Boys classics like "Surf's Up" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"—the new songs mirror the aching beauty of the older.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album isn't so fortunate. There are some innocuously boring songs ("Spring Vacation," "Shelter," and "Isn't It Time") that sound like a Beach Boys cover band. But then there are the songs that sound like they should soundtrack a geriatric cruise ship, such as "The Private Life of Bill and Sue" and "Daybreak Over the Ocean." Maybe it's a mixing problem, maybe the Boys' voices just can't carry the songs anymore. But either way, it's strange to hear men who qualify for Social Security singing about beach life as if it's still 1967.
In the end, That's Why God Made the Radio isn't a bad album. It's just not the album everyone wanted. And, if the final third of the album is any indication, it's not even the best album this collection of musicians can make. (www.thebeachboys.com)
Author rating: 5/10
Average reader rating: 7/10