The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio
It wasn’t very long ago when the idea that there could even be a twenty-ninth Beach Boys album seemed preposterous. With years of in-group squabbling and Carl Wilson’s passing, it just didn’t seem in the cards that the group would ever reunite, let alone record new material. But as the remaining members released their legendary unfinished album SMiLE—first Brian Wilson’s solo reimagining, then the definitive 2011 Smile Sessions collection—there was renewed interest in a band once thought to be a thing of the past. And now, coinciding with their 50th anniversary tour, arrives That’s Why God Made The Radio, their first album of all-new songs in twenty years, as well as their first featuring guitarist David Marks since 1963.
Given that this a comeback album of sorts, especially one coming from such a storied band, there’s loads of nostalgia to be found here, both in the summer fun lyrics and the Pet Sounds and Sunflower-styled aesthetic. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least in theory, and as the graceful intro “Think About The Days” gives way to the warm, breezy title track, complete with some truly lovely harmonies, it really seems that the Beach Boys have returned to their powers. However, the album then sharply nosedives to some truly mediocre material, which, at times, nears self-parody. These songs generally take the band’s two default pathways: songs that idealize summer and vaguely melancholy songs about life and love in modern times. Again, in and of itself, this isn’t an issue, and lyrics like “Spring vacation/Good vibrations/Summer weather/We’re back together” wouldn’t be so cloying if the music was strong enough to support them, nor would the critique of our celebrity-obsessed culture in “The Private Life Of Bill And Sue” feel so shallow. Instead, the album’s awkward mix of psych-pop, soft rock, adult contemporary and tropical music ends up sounding like the songs are being performed by a covers band rather than the actual group itself, albeit a covers band who harmonize remarkably well. Songwriting aside, the other disappointment here is Brian Wilson’s production. This isn’t the ’60s, and studio technology and techniques have evolved considerably, so it makes sense that Wilson would take advantage of these advancements. However, he tries to have it both ways: emulating the past while giving everything a thick coat of modern gloss. Instead of invigorating their music, Wilson’s production feels like a crude approximation of the classic-era Beach Boys sound, so little feels authentic. Fortunately, the last three tracks end up being the saving grace for That’s Why God Made The Radio, providing a sighing, SMiLE-inspired coda to the album, the restful sunset to a day at the beach. The mellow, wistful tone of these songs has a maturity sorely lacking from the rest of this regressive record. These parting moments imply that the Beach Boys may still have some ideas up their collective sleeve. Too bad not enough of these ideas show up to make this album anything but for diehard fans only.