Album Review: The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio

[Capitol; 2012]

When the surviving members of The Beach Boys spoke of reuniting for a 50th anniversary tour and a new album in 2012, a lot of fans were unsure about how the conflicting personalities of members such as Brian Wilson and Mike Love would interact both on the stage and in a studio environment. However, one spin of That’s Why God Made the Radio is enough to suggest that while the band may have had their differences, they can still make engaging and unique music together that sounds remarkably fresh, despite the aging of its band members.

In fact, it’s quite a humbling observation that The Beach Boys are still capable of making music that sounds as eclectic as ever, and their commercial gravitas makes listening to the radio interesting once again. The Beach Boys are a breath of fresh air, because nobody is really making music like them nowadays. Tracks such as “Spring Vacation” emulate the summer-themed titles of old Beach Boy songs and have an 80s groove to them, combining keyboards and sumptuous guitars with addictive choruses. They even mention a “good vibration” in the lyrics of this track. Throughout, they retain a tropical sound, with “The Private Life Of Bill And Sue” coming across as a tribute to a Hawaiian beach party, and “Daybreak Over The Ocean” proving that their vocal harmonies are still second-to-none.

Brian and the band still sound brilliant singing together. Wilson has proven that his vocals are still on top-form with certain recent live performances, and on That’s Why God Made the Radio he’s hitting all of the right notes. It’s also easy to approve of the band’s lyrics, with songs covering themes that they would have explored during their 60s output. Everything sounds cohesive and intelligently designed, with tracks flowing together to give the album a sense of completeness. There’s little doubt that this is one of The Beach Boy’s strongest albums since their 70s output, which really plays to their strengths and comes across as some minor miracle that they can still make music this good after five decades in the business.

For the majority of the album the tracks aren’t among The Beach Boys best. But while they don’t break new ground and won’t be instant classics in the way that many songs from Pet Sounds may have been, it’s just as respectable for a band to hit a competent groove and stay there consistently. Thus, tracks such as “Beaches In Mind” blur together with those that they are book-shelved between, but they still remain enjoyable to listen to even if they lack a timeless quality.

However, while the bulk of the album is decent without being sensational, the last three tracks are designed as a tribute to Pet Sounds and SMiLE, and really do meet the lofty expectations set upon them. “From There To Back Again” sounds both youthful and beautiful, with some excellent vocal harmonies throughout. It could easily be a song from their professional peak–it’s certainly a long time coming that The Beach Boys would making a track as instantly gratifying as this. “Pacific Coast Highway” sounds more SMiLE than Pet Sounds, and features Brian musing over the ramifications of getting old, which strikes a genuine emotional chord with listeners, especially when combined with the gorgeous string arrangements, violins and pianos. The Beach Boys have rarely sounded this pretty and elegant in all of their years.

Finishing with “Summer’s Gone,” which was apparently intended to appear on the final Beach Boys album – suggesting that That’s Why God Made the Radio may be their last record – is a hauntingly introspective listen that continues with the grand atmosphere of the previous two tracks. If this is the way that The Beach Boys go out, then they’ve left with a serious contender for one of the better records of their career. It’s not an instant classic, but it’s certainly good enough for them to be proud of what they’ve achieved throughout the years, and the emotional slant of its finale is genuine enough to view it as a heart-felt goodbye. While many listeners would do well to give the entire record a spin, the final three tracks will be what they’ll repeatedly return to. The album as a whole isn’t flawless, yet by sounding utterly enchanting during its climax it leaves a listener feeling genuinely touched. From a such legendary band, you could ask for nothing more.