The Beach Boys
That's Why God Made the Radio
(EMI / Capitol)
Prior to late 2010 rumours that the surviving Beach Boys would reunite for a 50th anniversary album and tour, a fresh chapter of their fabled story was difficult to imagine. An innovative hit factory and America's "best-loved band" they may have been, but a Gordian knot of creative differences, mental illness, loss and ancient pecking-order struggles stood between Brian Wilson, the group's troubled genius, and Mike Love, the irksome and litigious flag-waver for The Beach Boys' summery brand.
Whether the hatchet has been buried or merely shelved is unclear, but the first Beach Boys album in 27 years to feature Wilson and Love is no slight return. Together with Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and David Marks, the warring cousins have made a record that is for the most part worthy of their stature. It's a labour of love with nods to The Beach Boys' revered 1966 album Pet Sounds and their more quietly cherished 1970 work, Sunflower. TWGMTR isn't perfect, and as one might expect of a band that will soon contain four septuagenarians, it doesn't sound like it was made for these times. Still, if it's a little saccharine in places and its guileless take on relationships is anachronistic, there's no mistaking the record's melodic strength.
Naturally, the group's oft-imitated but matchless vocal blend is prominent. It's there, remarkably unblemished, on the yearning a cappella section which ushers in the opener Think About the Days, and it's there on the album's mellifluous, harmonically complex title track, the latest in a long line of Beach Boys songs to acknowledge a higher power.
The record also achieves a neat balance between two distinct strands of the band's magic. While Isn't it Time, Spring Vacation and the Love-penned Daybreak Over The Ocean rely upon a lightly worn pop sensibility and such time-served Beach Boys signifiers as sun, sea and "good vibrations", the album's closing triptych of fine, less conventionally arranged songs gradually takes on a more wistful quality. It's the dark cloud behind the silver lining; an acknowledgement of the band's advanced years and the ultimate change of season.
It's touching, then, to hear Wilson, the elder brother of the late Beach Boys Dennis and Carl, sing on Pacific Coast Highway: "And I wanna go home / sunlight's fading and there's not much left to say." The album's standout, though, is From There to Back Again, its lead vocal handled by Jardine. Brilliantly arranged for piano, airy woodwind and more of those sublime harmonies, it's a bittersweet meditation on the impossibility of turning back the clock.