The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made The Radio
The Beach Boys have watched a sizeable volume of water pass under the bridge since their last performance as a Brian Wilson-bolstered unit almost 16 years ago. Mike Love has sued his cousin for a second and third time in the interim, while the lingering spectre of Smile was finally exorcised when Wilson released his solo version of the album 37 years after the sessions that spawned the legend had been abandoned. Meanwhile, a second Wilson, Carl, passed away in 1998, leaving Brian as the sole surviving brother.
In this context, then, there is a tenderness to the album's opener, 'Think About The Days'. In just under 90 seconds, we are treated to The Beach Boys at their most haunting. It's melancholy, contemplative and consummately refined, and it feels for a moment as though this band of nigh-on septuagenarians have finally learnt to put their considerable differences to one side. Unfortunately this brief and perfectly-formed instrumental proves to be the highlight of an album that's only challenge is to push the very boundaries of taste and the contrast over the next eleven tracks couldn't be more stark.
The freshly reunited quintet trot out a limp collection of cloyingly sunny self-parodies, brimming with cliché and dripping in self-congratulation as Wilson and Love seem at pains to push their newfound accord firmly down the throats of their audience. "As for the past, it's all behind us," we're told on 'Spring Vacation', "Happier now, look where life finds us; singing our songs is enough reason. Harmony, boys, is what we believe in." Sonically, it's cheap and tawdry. Its organs sound gimmicky, glittering like the lapels of a working men's club tribute act, while its all's-well-that-ends-well agenda comes across as forced, disingenuous and belittling of the gaping chasms which have existed between the band's core members over the last two decades.
Lyrically, there are images of the group's past at every turn. "We'll find a place in the sun where everyone can have fun," we're promised on 'Beaches In Mind', while the totems of sea, surf, girls, cars and transistor radios float in and out like ghosts of summers past as Wilson and Love attempt to invoke a more carefree, innocent period in both their own lives and indeed American history. Try as they might, this consistent preoccupation with teenage concerns comes off as more disturbing than poignant.
To their credit, the trademark melodies are still there to some degree, and the vocal interplay is impressive at times. However, when the highpoints do come ('Isn't It Time', 'Shelter', 'Daybreak Over The Ocean'), you find yourself applauding solely for their ability to approximate something close to their old selves rather than forging any new ground.
To be fair, though, That's Why God Made The Radio sounds exactly like you would expect a group who are celebrating their 50th anniversary to sound. The real problem with this album – and one which plucks it from the pile of purely innocuous rock postscripts – is its mock wisdom. There's something really quite disconcerting about this album's obsession with proving just how content these guys are in each other's company. A final payday is one thing, but attempting to put any degree of integrity on the table is, in the context, quite another. As the title of the last track declares, 'Summer's Gone'. If this album teaches us anything it's that it's probably best to leave it that way.