I can hardly wrap my mind around the fact that it’s 2012 and I’m listening to a new Beach Boys album. And by “Beach Boys” I don’t mean Mike Love and whatever people he isn’t suing at the moment, but THE BEACH BOYS. With Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike, Bruce Johnston, and — for good measure — David Marks! Let that sink in for a minute.
But the real shocker? That’s Why God Made the Radio is no feeble cash-in, my friends. This is a legitimately good album, easily the best the group has released since I was in nursery school. Granted, they haven’t really been setting the bar very high over the last 30-plus years, but you get the idea. I think most hardcore fans would’ve been happy with the long-awaited SMiLE box set, but then they had to go and top that by pulling off the most improbable reunion in… well, I don’t know how long.
Firstly, I was positive that Brian was being used in the worst way by Mike Love, but man was I ever wrong. Mike recedes into the background throughout much of this album, which is positively Brian’s baby. (OK, Brian, Joe Thomas, and Jeffrey Fosket.) Just listen to the pair of brief interludes — “Think About the Days” and “Pacific Coast Highway” — to hear what I mean. They pack such an emotional wallop in less than two minutes each. The former is the direct descendant of “Our Prayer,” and the only thing that could’ve made it better would be to hear Carl and Dennis in the mix. The latter finds Brian at his most vulnerable and beautiful.
There are just so many satisfying moments on this record. The second single, “From There to Back Again,” is a 21st century Al Jardine treasure that recalls the last great period for the band (right around Sunflower). The first single and title track didn’t hit me at first, but now I love it. God, those harmonies are impossible to beat even half a century later.
I can’t think of a more fitting way to end the album than “Summer’s Gone,” which comes as close to recreating the sublime beauty of Pet Sounds as anything the Beach Boys have done since then. I would love to hear an entire Brian Wilson/Beach Boys album with nothing but these types of aching, melancholic numbers, but I know it will never happen.
Look, I can admit that this isn’t a perfect album. But then again the imperfections of these men have been made all too public, haven’t they? I can’t say I have a burning desire to break out my only tropical shirt and see the band live. I saw Brian in 2005 and that was enough for me. It’s enough to know that in listening to this record, the world can seem perfect just for a little while.