Thatís Why God Made The Radio
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/16/2012
For as much as Mike Love has tried to pretend that the Beach Boys could exist without Brian Wilson, it has been patently obvious for 25 years or so that’s not the case. The Beach Boys without their genius were a cover band with a rotating door for membership. With the Wilson rejuvenation of the Naughts firmly entrenched, one might have expected Brian to sever ties with his former group and never look back.
Only here’s the funny part: Brian Wilson without the Beach Boys was still just Brian Wilson. As amazing as the 2004 version of SMiLE was, as pitch perfect as the tours that followed sounded, it still wasn’t his band from Hawthorne, California. A part of his legacy was missing, having been essentially taken from him due to decades of poor choices and terrible missteps.
That’s makes this reunion more than a simple cash grab to exploit the nostalgia of baby-boomers (though that’s definitely part of it). Both sides needed to have an ending to the story: the public is just lucky that the first phase of that eventuality turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable record. This is a true Beach Boys record, and probably the first of its kind since The Beach Boys Love You. For those playing along at home, Love You was released in 1977. To say it’s been a while would definitely be an understatement.
What made the Beach Boys so special during their heyday was the fascinating dynamic within the group. Brian Wilson was the genius, the man whose list of rivals contained just two names: Lennon and McCartney. His ambitions went beyond the rudimentary crooning about fast and cars and surfboards. Those feelings were not shared amongst the other members of the group, who frankly were content to continue the path they had started on. The Beatles grew as a group together with Lennon/McCartney firmly in charge, The Beach Boys were torn between artistic vision and commercial success.
But I would argue that without Love and that philosophy, the Beach Boys would have never experienced the massive success that propelled them for years. Brian wanted to write songs that people would pray to: Love wanted to keep things relatable and easy-going. Is that honestly wrong to want? Wilson pushed them towards amazing new directions, directions that few other bands were capable of. Songs about surfing were played endlessly at certain points in the ’60s, but we don’t remember those bands. We remember the group that sang about driving fast, but blew us away with the greatest harmonies to ever grace a record.
That’s Why God Made The Radio reflects that struggle yet again, but in 2012, that’s okay. This time, the split is almost entirely self-evident in the track listing: the first half of the record is dominated by Mike Love, whilst the second is decidedly in the Wilson camp. Song titles like “Spring Vacation,” “Beaches in Mind” and Daybreak Over The Ocean” are fairly representative of the Love ouvre, while “Strange World,” “Summer’s Gone” and “From There To Back Again” sound like titles from a Wilson solo record.
When it comes to the Beach Boys, the most relevant question is, how do they sound? That blend of vocal talent was startling in the ’60s, and incredibly, remains so 50 years later. The passings of Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson have cast a pall over anything Boys-related since the 80s, but the core of the band has remained: Wilson, Love, Jardine, Johnston, Marks and Jeffrey Foskett, who toured in place of Carl during one of his absences from the group. The a capella intro of “Think About The Days” vividly takes one back to the artistic highlights of the band during the Pet Sounds-era. There are no words, just gorgeous sound.
While critics have highlighted the second half of TWGMTR as being creatively superior to its first, that half of the record keeps things grounded as a Beach Boys album. Tonally, the opening tracks of TWGMTR come closest to the early to mid-’70s portion of the Beach Boys’ career. By that point, Brian Wilson had practically quit contributing music to the records, and the onus was put on the other band members to be creative. “It’s Time” and “Daybreak Over the Ocean,” contain their fair share of cliched phrasings and uninspired production, but are still better than average pop songs. Adding the stellar vocals on top just heightens the quality. Yes, Mike Love is 70 and singing about dancing the night away and going steady again, but he has always done that. That’s been a hallmark of the Beach Boys since the 60s, and should continue to be in any form.
The closing trio of “From There To Back Again,” “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Summer’s Gone” reach a level that this group has not achieved since Surf’s Up. That leftover from SMiLE assured it would be remembered, but these compositions from Brian Wilson had no such guarantee. Listen closely, and you will hear echoes of SMiLE and Pet Sounds. Maybe’s it the wear in Wilson’s voice, or maybe it’s his realization that are far fewer days ahead than there once were, but these songs mean something to the singer, and to anyone who has heard “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and found something real in it.
“Summer’s gone, it’s finally sinking in.” Of all the words that come out of That’s Why God Made The Radio, these may be the most meaningful. Fifty years have passed for the boys that loved to sing about cars, women and surfing. It has not been an easy half-century; with turmoil and death rearing their head far too often for a group that delivered some of the greatest pop music we will ever see. And with these last words, one wonders whether or not the message they portend is indeed the truth. If that turns out to be the case, one thing is very clear: it was a great summer.