Thatís Why God Made The Radio
REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/16/2012
A reunion! I never expected this, but perhaps it was inevitable. After all, doesn’t it seem like every band reunites at some point? Brian Wilson is back in the producer’s chair for the first time on a Beach Boys record in 35 years, and along with him are the other surviving member of the group: Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine. Original guitarist David Marks has also returned to the band as a full time member, though his contribution to this album is negligible at best. Not present are either of Brian’s brothers, who sadly passed away from drowning (Dennis in 1983) and cancer (Carl in 1998).
Carl in particular is greatly missed from the vocal blend. Longtime Beach Boys associate Jeff Foskett takes over Carl’s former vocal position on the high end of the harmonies and does a fine job, but he cannot replicate Carl’s soul and passion. Whereas Jeff simply sings the chorus of a song like “Shelter,” Carl would have made sure you felt it down to the core. I don’t miss Dennis nearly as much, since his voice wasn’t nearly as essential to the vocal blend, but the tender, piano-led ballads near the album’s close do seem to feel like a subtle nod towards his style.
Before we dive into the good, there’s one thing that really bothers me. Pitch correction is very audible on several songs here. Now, I have no issue with using pitch correction software, it’s an important tool in the modern producer’s toolbox -- but it should always be used as subtly as possible. Making it as obvious as it is on parts of this album was a big mistake, as it distracts from an otherwise stellar vocal like Al Jardine’s lead on “From There To Back Again.”
Joe Thomas, who produced Brian’s adult-contemporary cheese-fest Imagination in 1998, returned to collaborate with Brian on the writing and recording of these new songs, and as a result the production on the whole is very glossy and sterile. Thankfully this album is almost completely free of the cheesy synths that plagued Imagination. But there are a few moments where the production feels eerily like it could be a Jimmy Buffett record. Regardless, as much as the production bugs me, I’d still take it over their atrociously produced late ’80s & early ’90s albums any day. And besides, the production would only truly be a problem if the songs were bad, and thankfully that isn’t the case at all.
To nobody’s surprise whatsoever, these songs are very nostalgic in both music and lyrics. The Beach Boys have been looking back ever since “Do It Again” way back in 1968, and there’s no reason why they should stop now. Mike Love’s lyrics on the album feature references to old hits (an approach he’s been a longtime fan of) which is a little awkward for sure, but what else rhymes with “spring vacation’ other than “good vibrations”? Even in “Good Vibrations” itself, Mike had to make up a word to make that rhyme work. The other lyrics are somewhat awkward in places but they’re mostly acceptable, and lyrics have rarely been the group’s strong suit anyway. The title track recalls “Good Timin” (but a little worse) and “Daybreak Over The Ocean” recalls “Getcha Back” (but a little better). “Isn’t It Time” almost feels straight off of Sunflower with its homegrown feel, handclaps and cheery ukulele groove; not to mention a stellar chorus that’s been lodged in my head since I first heard it. The hooks on the album are generally very strong; even its weakest tracks are still very hummable.
The album’s peak come in the last three tracks, which come from one of the musical suites that Brian is so fond of putting together. If anybody came to this album hoping for something similar to the vibe of Pet Sounds, this is where you’ll find it, though these tracks have a bit more in common with recent Wilson ballads. “Summer’s Gone” is a little repetitive, but definitely feels as if it comes from the same place as a song like “Caroline No.” “Pacific Coast Highway” may be my favorite, sporting some gorgeous group harmonies and several different melodies, though at less than two minutes it functions mainly as a link between its meatier bookends.
I have no idea whether this will be the last word on the Beach Boys’ career or not. But if it, is I’m very glad that they’ve made sure that they’re going out with a bang instead of the pitiful whimper of their ’80s and ’90s material. And if it’s not, as long as they can keep putting out tunes as infectious as “Isn’t It Time” and as moving as the closing suite, I’ll be glad that the Beach Boys are still around and kicking. Just ease up on the plastic production next time guys, okay?