Did we dare dream that the Beach Boys could cobble together something so brilliantly resonant, something that so perfectly mirrors their own dashed aspirations? Probably not. That’s what makes That’s Why God Made the Radio — due June 5, 2012, from EMI-Capitol Records — such a stirring surprise, and such a consistently enjoyable listen. And right from the first.
“Think About the Days” — which, like most of the album, was written by Wilson and Joe Thomas, begins with that gorgeous intertwining of voices, the very sound of sunshine, and it’s difficult not to be transported back into time — even if it was a time you never knew. After all, the Beach Boys — save for Dennis — weren’t surfers, anyway. So it’s not like this reverie was ever really made real, even if you bought the records in the first place.
No, the Beach Boys’ medium was always nostalgia, even back then. Same here: Moments like the hopelessly dewy-eyed title track, the multi-layered goof-ball flirtatiousness of “Isn’t It Time,” the devastatingly beautiful “Shelter,” the soaringly sentimental “From There to Back Again,” well, they’re pure romance — with all of the expected complexity, good and bad, that it involves. Anyone who complains that this stuff is two dimensional is thinking more than he’s feeling. Oh, and also ignoring everything we’ve come to know about the Beach Boys in general, and Brian Wilson in particular. He was waxing poetic about muscle cars, teeny boppers and transistor radios back when those things were new.
In that way, Wilson seems to have finally — in the warm embrace of these voices — come all the way back from a long period in the wilderness: With “The Private Life of Bill and Sue,” he’s finally fashioned the kind of McCartney-esque story/song that seemed so elusive during the troubled era that produced (or didn’t) SMiLE. It’s sweetly constructed, impishly conveyed, and inescapably charming. Meanwhile, “Beaches in Mind,” with a co-write from Mike Love, has a coiled, Chuck Berry-inspired attitude that’s been missing from Beach Boys music for far too long. And what would an album like this be without its “In My Room” moment?: “Strange World,” a billowing Phil Spector-ish anthem to aloneness, finds Wilson once again standing apart from the wider world around him. But just as he had with that signature earlier composition, he uncovers a fragile, cerulean beauty in these two concurrent experiences.
There are, to be sure, a few twinges of regret, a few sad absences. Any fan of the Beach Boys must have come in dreading the now-standard age-inappropriate Love-fronted high school-themed reminiscence, and tracks like “Spring Vacation” and “Daybreak Over the Ocean” certainly seem to fit the bill. But, even here, Wilson’s recently reawakened studio wizardry — the tasty turn on guitar from David Marks on the former, a swirling cathedral of meshed vocals on the latter — saves each from itself. It’s difficult, too, not to miss Dennis and (in particular) Carl Wilson, as the Beach Boys are forced to augment their sound with additional singers like Jeffrey Foskett (on “Shelter”), and Christian Love and Adrian Baker (“Daybreak”). Brian Wilson is bolstered throughout by co-writer Joe Thomas; the album also features compositional assists from Jon Bon Jovi on the finale and Jim Peterik, of Survivor and Ides of March fame, on the title track.
Even so, as it goes along, That’s Why God Made the Radio gets unquestionably stronger, peaking during the final sequence that begins with “Strange World.” Moving forward through the Al Jardine-led “From There to Back Again,” into the fading sunlight of “Pacific Coast Highway” — and then finally coming to rest amidst the twilight poignancy of “Summer’s Gone,” Wilson faces squarely the idea the things come to an end, even the Beach Boys’ mythical time in the sun. In so doing, the Beach Boys reclaim not just their sound, but their emotional center.
It’s no small thing, after the personal struggles that Wilson endured, and the bad feelings that once tore this group of survivors to shreds. That’s Why God Made the Radio is that most unexpected of delights, after so much has gone on: A return to form.
The Beach Boys — dare to dream — sound like nothing so much as themselves again.
Here are the dates and venues for the Beach Boys’ ongoing 50th anniversary reunion tour …
6/1: Berkeley, CA – The Greek Theatre
6/2: Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Bowl
6/8: The Woodlands, TX – Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
6/10: Manchester, TN – Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival
6/13: Cuyahoga Falls, OH – Blossom Music Center
6/15: Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion
6/16: Camden, NJ – Susquahanna Bank Center
6/17: Bethel, NY – Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
6/22: Bangor, ME – Waterfront Park
6/23: Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
6/26: Boston, MA – Bank of America Pavilion
6/29: Darien Lakes, NY – Darien Lakes Performing Arts Center
6/30: Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
7/1: Milwaukee, WI – Marcus Amphitheater
7/3: Virginia Beach, VA – Farm Bureau Live at Virginia Beach
7/10: Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre
7/13: Woodinville, WA – Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery
7/14: Eugene, OR – Cuthbert Amphitheater
7/15: Stateline, NV – Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Amphitheater