The Beach Boys

That's Why God Made the Radio

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Plans for the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary tour came together surprisingly quickly, but nothing prepared fans for a full studio album just six months after their official reunion. Further surprises included apparently cordial relations between all surviving members, Brian Wilson in the producer's booth, the presence of 12 original songs on the album, and the complete absence of any attempt to cash in on fond memories of "Kokomo" or Endless Summer or "Do It Again" or "Help Me, Rhonda" -- depending on which generation the band might want to court. That's Why God Made the Radio is as good as it gets for those who love their Beach Boys. It includes frequently gorgeous charts from Wilson and just a little sweetening to the songs (musically with help from Wilson's regular band and arranger Paul Mertens, lyrically with help from Joe Thomas and Jim Peterik). The album is a record of two halves -- or sides, in case the band was thinking back to famous side-by-side classics like 1965's Today! The first half is mostly upbeat, with highlights "Isn't It Time" and the title track evoking pleasant curios from late-'60s LPs like Wild Honey or Friends. The second half is largely reflective, with songs that reveal the band's feelings about time passing and life ending (much more than any other material in their entire careers). Granted, no latter-day Beach Boys record comes without missteps, but fortunately there are only two. "Spring Vacation" is embarrassingly chummy, with the lines "As for the past, it's all behind us/Happier now, look where life finds us/Singing our songs is enough reason/Harmony boys is what we believe in/Some said it wouldn't last/All we can say is we're still having a blast." Meanwhile, the downright odd "Private Life of Bill and Sue" takes a fictional couple into the reality-show realm for a misguided cultural critique. For those worried about either Love or Wilson dominating the proceedings, it's clear to see that not only Wilson gets his moment in the sun. For Mike Love, it's "Daybreak Over the Ocean," which could have come off as an update of "Kokomo"'s tropical motif (with Mike crooning a little too close to your ear), but is thankfully treated very lightly. For Al Jardine, it's "From There to Back Again," easily the most beautiful song on the album, a Side 2 ballad epic that Wilson frames impeccably around Jardine's voice, aging but still sweet. (It ranks as one of their best ballads since the '60s.) These may not be the songs that will ever light up their live sets, but together they form what is easily the best Beach Boys record in 35 years -- and a surprisingly cohesive, reflective, listenable one at that.

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