The New Beach Boys’ Album…For What it’s Worth
This morning, just moments before I took the dog out for a long walk in the California sun so I could listen from start to finish the new Beach Boys’ album That’s Why God Made The Radio, my sixteen year old German exchange student came into my office to tell me she got a free ticket to their show tomorrow night down in Orange County, just minutes from the beaches they have been singing about for fifty years. She asked permission to go and I told her it would be the highlight of her visit; the quintessential California experience to cap off her year in America. And it will be. The Beach Boys never disappoint the crowd, in whatever combination of brothers, cousins or friends that show up to play and sing. It’s always fun, it always sounds great and whether your young or old, you come away satisfied.
So the picture in the upper left aside, I don’t want to be too snarky about what I’ve thought from the start was a bad idea: getting the remnants of the old group together in the studio for a new album and a money-making tour that should best be sponsored by AARP or Geritol. But don’t take it from me, read the opening paragraph from UK’s The Guardian that came out on May 31st:
“It’s easy to be sceptical about the Beach Boys’reunion. Indeed, if you look at the messageboards, diehard fans seem the most distrustful of the lot, which figures: for all the warmth and open-heartedness of the band’s best music, if there’s one thing being a Beach Boys an teaches you, it’s scepticism. There are only so many times you can be told Brian Wilson has been restored to full physical and mental health, the better to make himself and a lot of other people a great deal of money, before you develop what the Clash called a “bullshit detector”, and Beach Boys fans have been told that on a regular basis – and with a great deal of evidence to the contrary – for the last 36 years.”
So the point being, I’m not alone in my belief that this might not have been the best swan song for the band. That maybe “Kokomo” should be left standing as the final milepost to a wonderful journey. I know that song wasn’t their best, and it didn’t have Brian on it, but it was their last radio hit and the term “so be it” comes to mind every time I hear it. And The Guardian asks: “You find yourself wondering why on earth a 71-year-old [Mike Love] would be “cruisin’ the town and diggin’ the scene”: perhaps he’s plannin’ on askin’ them to keep the noise down so an old man can get some rest.”
The album opens with one minute and twenty-eight seconds of magic: the vocals, harmonies, chord and key changes are all there as you would hope and pray they would be. The production is perfect and the musicians in the studio are amazing. The old guys sound damn good and Brian’s voice cuts through the fog like a ray of sunshine. And although it makes you wish that Dennis and Carl would still be with us, that one minute and twenty-eight seconds is as perfect as it’ll ever get.
As for the rest of the album? Very solidly produced, sometimes there are moments of splendor and other times there are moments of embarrassment. The latter comes in the form of the lyrics, which are so damn nostalgic they make me want to run out and buy a cane or a walker. They keep asking us to remember this or remember that. Or they sing songs as if they were still living in Hawthorn or Inglewood and cruising for girls. And they throw in references like sun, surf, beach and (egads) good vibrations. In a concert setting, with young kids like our exchange student and her friends, and people from fifty to seventy, the songs will work just fine. It’ll get people up and dancing, and get them primed and ready for what is sure to be plenty of the old hits. The Beach Boys have become very skilled at “the medley”, making it their trademark at the casino and rib festival gigs that Mike and Bruce have been doing for decades (falsely) under the name of the band.
If you don’t know, I’ve been a Beach Boys fan for as long as the band has been around. I was California dreamin’ ever since I was twelve and living in Philadelphia, and when I was twenty-eight and moved out here I had several encounters with Brian and various members of the family. I worked at Capitol Records’ distributor and sold their catalog and reissues. Been at private shows and big concerts. Helped promote Carnie and Wendy’s records. Saw the Boys on the “Brian is Back” tour. So it’s a band I love dearly. And while this reunion and album could have been worse, it’s one I still wish wouldn’t have happened. Sometimes memories are best left in the corners of your mind.
Concert Update: Charlotte went to the old Irvine Meadows…now called Verizon Amphitheater (a rant I’ll save for later) and said that they crowd was pretty old…”mostly 60-70″ she guessed. With the recession being what it is, the cheap seats in the grass area was jammed while the seating area was filled but with plenty of holes. They offered seats to the grass people for an extra ten bucks. As expected, the show was good, the music solid. But she said “It was obvious what the new songs were…everybody got up and went to the bathroom or bought beer (lots) when they played them”. She had a great time and said the best part wasn’t the music, but watching “old people in Hawaiian shirts trying to dance and pretending that they were still good at it”. The kid is kind of sassy.