The Beach Boys
That’s Why God Made The Radio
It would be natural fans to wonder about The Beach Boys’ ability to go back and recapture the old magic on their new album nearly a half-century after their 60’s heyday. As it turns out, they find that old sound without much effort, and that turns out to be the problem.
If nothing else, That’s Why God Made The Radio gets points for completeness, since it reunites the three living original Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Mike Love), longtime member Bruce Johnston, and David Marks, who last performed with the group in 1963. At least that gives the project some credibility after group members feuded for eons and staged competing tours while Wilson stayed away and did his solo thing.
Now that the band has been reassembled, it’s as if the group doesn’t want to do anything to disturb its image again. I can understand the necessity of crafting the title track and first single in an effort to please the faithful, and the song is indeed a pleasant enough ode to listening to oldies in the car that proves that Wilson’s skills as a vocal arranger haven’t deserted him.
Alas, the obsession with nostalgia is overwhelming on the first eight songs on the disc. Just the titles alone should give you a hint at what to expect on songs like “Daybreak Over The Ocean” and “Beaches In Mind.” “Spring Vacation” is well-sung by Love, but its self-congratulatory story of the band getting back together has no relevance for anybody in the world other than those six guys.
These songs are so encased in the Beach Boys classic sound, with the Dum-dee-doobees down low, the ba-ba-baas up high, and “fun” always rhyming with “sun,” that they often come off sounding like some generic approximation of the band’s music. After hearing the first few bars of most of these songs, you can tell what’s coming the rest of the way. Then again, considering Wilson’s awkward critique of reality TV on “The Private Life Of Bill And Sue,” sticking with what the band knows might not be the worst idea.
The unrelenting cheerfulness and self-references finally let up in the album’s final third, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the best part of the disc. “Strange World” shows a little bit of feistiness even as it indulges in the old timpani and castanets combo. The lovely two-song suite of “From There To Back Again” and “Pacific Coast Highway” impresses with offbeat chord changes and freeform structure, displaying the kind of inventiveness for which Wilson is known.
These latter songs speak of lost opportunities that may not be regained, showing an honest assessment of the autumn years sorely missing from the rest of the album. The closing track, a languid mood piece, laments that “Summer’s Gone.” If only The Beach Boys hadn’t taken so long on the album to allow such a melancholy possibility into their glass bubble of sun and surf, That’s Why God Made The Radio might have amounted to something better than what it is: Music that doesn’t do justice to the brand it’s meant to sustain.