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That's Why God Made The Radio (Audio CD)

Pleasures Abound In New Beach Boys Album
Customer rating 5.0/5.0
June 15, 2012 By Record Producer
56 out of 57 found this helpful

As others have correctly stated, this isn't The Beach Boys Today, Pet Sounds, or Sunflower, nor should that have been expected. For one thing, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys have over forty years more life under their belts than they did way back when. Are you the same person you were that many years ago, if you were even alive then? Yes, the album has some weaker moments, as do all albums. Even Today, Pet Sounds, and Sunflower had their lesser tracks. But even most of the "filler" on this album is much stronger than the weak links that were always a part of previous Beach Boys' (and everybody else's) albums. Part of Brian's charm is that he takes chances, which means you are going to have some misses, but when he hits, boy does he hit like nobody else.

And although it's far too early to reflect upon how this new music will last, it's possible that people will be enjoying it long into the future with the same passion they do when listening to the very best Beach Boys' albums of yesteryear. The more I listen to it, the more I like the songs that didn't immediately bowl me over, and constant replaying hasn't dimmed any of the pleasures of the songs I was initially blown away by.

One of my few quibbles is that I wish Brian, Al, and Bruce had played a few instruments here and there, but considering the results are so stunning as it is, it's barely worth mentioning, especially as studio musicians almost always figured into Brian's past glories. But listening to Al's singing on "From There To Back Again" makes me wish that he, Bruce, and Mike had been featured a little more prominently in some of the mixes. Although I have no quibbles with Brian taking the lead vocals on much of this album, if we should be lucky enough to get another album or two out of The Boys, I hope Al and the others are a little more in the forefront of some of the songs, provided their vocals can stand that spotlight. Because I heard almost nothing but good from them in this album.

While many people have pointed out that Brian is 70 and he doesn't sing like a 25-year-old anymore, have you actually listened to this record? He sounds like a 35-year-old to me, and a 35-year-old who can sing as beautifully as anyone. Yes, he slurs a few words here and there as he's done for a long time, but the tone and quality of his voice that set it apart from everyone else when he was barely a man is still present and immediately recognizable. Heck, Jeff Foskett and his clarion "Carl Wilson" voice are 56, meaning he's twice as old as the Beach Boys were when they were already somewhat past their prime. And as an aside, although David Marks doesn't sing, had he not been guitarist on this album, I don't think this "event" would have been quite as special. Given that Carl and Dennis are gone, I think David definitely needed to be a part of the reunion, and I'm extremely happy for him. I would love to know which guitar parts he played.

If you give this album the repeated attention it deserves, you will hear some incredibly catchy music and arrangement/production touches that could only have come from Brian and those he's influenced. No, not every song has that Brian Wilson production stamp on it that one might like, but enough of them do, and the consistency of professionalism that begins from track 1 and ends with track 12 is obvious on first listen. And I don't think people should really obsess about how much the performances might or might not have been tweaked or enhanced in the studio, as studio magic was always one of the hallmarks of Brian's work. It's the "record" that matters -- the final recording that Brian was always concerned with. And from that standpoint alone, this album is classic Beach Boys all the way.

My favorite part of the opening piano-and-voice dominated song, "Think About The Days," is the French horn right at the very end. This is the type of attention to detail that helps make this album so rewarding.

While initially one of my least favorite songs, the title hit single "That's Why God Made The Radio" gets better with each listen, as you get more comfortable with Brian's chord and tempo changes, as well as subtle alterations in the repeats of the vocal parts. Comparing a song like this to "Getcha Back" -- a similar-themed and similar-sounding piece -- reveals how much more musical this recording is despite any flaws in lyrics or musical conception (one being a rather obvious modulation on the second "a whole new generation" that is so atypical of the usually unpredictable Mr. Wilson). However, the song ends on a high note with another of Brian's amazing vocal tags, the type he has written again and again throughout the years while always offering something different.

"Isn't It Time" and "Spring Vacation" are basically sunshiney fluff, with typically-forgettable lyrics that hearken back to the earlier years. But are they beautifully written and performed? You betcha. Mike, Al, and Bruce sound great, the harmonies are both exquisite and brilliantly arranged. The first song has a bridge as good as the chorus (Jeff's beautiful "And as the Sun goes down"), and Brian's "Hall-e-lu-ooo-ooo-ooo-ya" in "Spring Vacation" is priceless.

So many people seem to want to pounce on "The Private Life of Bill and Sue," but I think it's an absolute classic, similar in musical spirit to the great "South American" from Brian's solo album Imagination. The lyrics aren't deep, but they aren't supposed to be. And we don't listen to sunshine pop for the lyrics anyway, which are perfect for the lightness of the song. Just listen to the music and enjoy. The chorus is as catchy as anything Brian's written, and reminds me in its own way of "California Girls." It's that good. Get over the subject matter and immerse yourself in the amazing vocal arrangement and incredible harmonies. The instrumentation is light and frothy, with the bridge being short, fun, and makes you want to revisit the song again and again. Production-wise, the baritone sax that provides the brassy propulsion throughout the song (especially at the end of the bridge) makes this a Wilson classic.

"Shelter" is not one of my favorites, but many people love it, and that's the strength of this album. If you ask enough people, every song has its devoted fans, with no dogs that everyone wants to pounce on, like "Let's Put Our Hearts Together" or "The TM Song." The chorus of "Shelter" is an inversion of "Darlin" ("Don't know if words can say..."), with Jeff Foskett supplying his Carl Wilson imitation perfectly. The other Beach Boys' voices are superb, with and while I feel this song pales compared to some of the others on this album, it would have been one of the best songs on any of the Beach Boys' albums from 1974 onward. Listen to it and marvel at the fact that no other group has sung like the Beach Boys or offered such amazing vocal arrangements in the history of rock and roll.

The weakest song is probably Mike's "Daybreak Over the Ocean," but it's much better than many of his tunes, and its biggest faults are that it's too long and that Brian wasn't allowed to produce it all the way through. If you remove about 1:30 of its over four-minute length, and if Brian could have produced the song from the bottom up, I think it could have been a mini-classic. It needed a choral bridge rather than the basic instrumental version it received, but even though it's one of the lesser lights on the album, there's very little in it that anyone should be embarrassed about, other than the fact that Mike seems to be off the beat throughout a lot of the song. The vocal fade is great, with more Carl Wilson sound-alike vocals. Compare this with "Brian's Back" or some of the other Mike Love offerings from the past, and this song is miles ahead of most of them.

"Beaches in Mind" needed some extra work, as it's too perfunctory for my ears. The material we're presented with is superbly produced, and the chorus is definitely melodic, but it just sounds unfinished structurally. The verse and "fun fun fun" bridge are not as memorable as what Brian usually composes, and you find yourself just waiting for the chorus to return, which is the best part. The keyboards are great, and little vocal touches help it stand up to repeated listenings, but I think Brian didn't flesh this one out as well as he could have.

"Strange World" captures everything that is brilliant about Brian Wilson and The Boys. While it seems to be a simple song, listen to the amazing key change from the piano opening to the first verse. It sounds wrong the first time you hear it, but right every time thereafter. The bass playing is terrific, with fun organ stops, and the arrangement of the vocals is astounding. The chorus is as catchy as anything Brian's ever written - as good as "I Get Around," "Fun, Fun, Fun," etc. The bridge ("Sunday morning") is a superb melody as memorable as anything on the album, with the gorgeous vocals after "pretty good company" being exquisite. The throwaway line about "Yo Te Amo" is priceless, and the lyrics are as solid as almost any past Beach Boys song. Driving strings that might remind one of "Cabinessence" help close out this amazing track.

Obviously, "From There to Back Again" is the acknowledged classic, from Al Jardine's flawless vocals to the incredible song structure that I still haven't completely figured out. The starts and stops and changes in mood are simply as good as anything from Pet Sounds, Smile, or Sunflower. The guitars and drums are straight out of 1966 while still sounding contemporary. Mike gets in some great vocal touches before Al's whistling, and the harmonies are memorable throughout. This song definitely belongs in the pantheon of truly great Wilson creations like "This Whole World," "Surf's Up," etc. In a fair and just world, it would win a Grammy for Best Song and Best Record, but you know that will never happen. But I find it hard to believe that anybody else is going to write and produce a better song in all of 2012.

The last two tracks on the album, "Pacific Coast Highway" and "Summer's Gone," continue the melancholy set by the previous piece, but nobody writes more achingly beautiful "sad" music than Brian Wilson. Witness "Til I Die." These two closing songs use different types of harmonies than the sunshine pop ones heard earlier, with great string writing contributing to the effect. The clip-cloppy percussion of "Summer's Gone" hearkens back to Pet Sounds, yet not seeming like a retread. The lyrics of both songs are poetic and touching. The perfect way to end the album.

I cannot picture how anyone can give this album a one-, two-, or three-star rating unless they just like to rile people up by deliberately making stupid comments. Just listen to this album as finished product rather than as a statement about who the Beach Boys were or still are. This was music meant to move you emotionally or spiritually, or just to help bring some beauty and joy to your life. On merely that last part, "That's Why God Made the Radio" delivers the goods, and for that reason alone it's a five-star CD. Had it been made 10, 20, or even 40 years ago, it would be just as good. It's not as wonderful as it is simply because we never thought we'd hear anything from The Beach Boys again, or because we thought that if we ever did, it would be as disappointing as MIU or Still Cruisin.

This new album is as rewarding a listening experience as it is because the songs are mostly very solidly crafted, the vocal arrangements sparkle, and the production and performances are blemish-free. While not every song is in the top tier of classic Brian Wilson productions, some of them are, and the rest are still as good or better than 95% of anything new you'll likely hear on the radio from any other artists. I simply can't remember the last time I listened to a record over and over and over and enjoyed it equally every time. Oh, yes I do. It was when Brian presented Smile to us about eight years ago.



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