June 9, 2012

twgmtr Having listened to The Beach Boys’ 29th official studio album (and first since 1992’s disastrous Summer In Paradise) over the past few days I’m ready to pass a little judgment on it. Before I do, however, there are a few observations I’d like to lay out beforehand:

1. The late Carl Wilson’s voice is really missed in the BB blend, but he’s gone so what can you do?

2. It’s disappointing to hear that, rather than this being a group development effort, the majority of songs appear to have been written by Brian Wilson around 2003-4 ago with former collaborator Joe Thomas as a potential sequel to Brian Wilson’s 1998 Imagination release.

3. The CD would benefit from a different sequencing of songs to differentiate the more group-sounding and light-hearted tunes from the four heavier, more personal, Brian Wilson tunes that close the album out (more on that later).

4. David Marks is a gifted musician in his own right and deserved better than the brief guitar licks he was given. Adding one of his songs would have been a nice touch and brought a little more variety to the overall mix.

But I’m quibbling here – after all, it is a bona fide, original Beach Boys release (something I never thought I’d ever have an opportunity to review again), and it deserves to be accepted and reviewed on its own merits, so here goes:

1. “Think About The Days”: a wordless, nearly a capella track with soaring, classic Beach Boys harmonies. It’s not as majestic as, say, SMiLE’s “Our Prayer”, but it certainly lets you know The Beach Boys are back. Given its somewhat wistful air, it would fit better further down the line as a break between the more light-hearted, group-centric tunes and the more serious, melancholy Brian tunes that close the album out. On my mix, their remake of “Do It Again” will open the album, and it sounds great there.

2. “That’s Why God Made the Radio”: Catchy tune with great Beach Boys harmonies and classic arrangement. To me, putting it as the opening track would have kicked the album off with a bang, whereas its placement after “Think About The Days” sounds a bit jarring. The last minute is a classic BB romp with great harmonic calisthenics. Play it once and you’ll be hearing the chorus in your head all day long.

3. “Isn’t It Time”: I’ve heard some fans say this sounds like something from their early ’70s period, but to me it wouldn’t be at all out of place on 1985’s The Beach Boys. Alan Jardine is in fine form here, as he is throughout this album; his voice more than the others sounds as strong and distinctive as ever, and it’s great to hear his voice with Brian, Bruce, and Mike again.

4. “Spring Vacation”: I really like the funky, laid-back rhythm of this tune. It’s as sweet as confetti, and a perfect backdrop to enjoying a cocktail on the patio. Personally, I would have liked to hear David Marks’ guitar given a harder edge – I think it would have made the song a little stronger. Still, the chorus is catchy and Brian’s sung “Hallelu-hoo-hoojah” (to rhyme with “Hey, what’s it to ya?”) is pure Brian. The vocals around 2:10-2:16 weave in and out in a really interesting way: it’s an arrangement that could only have come from Brian Wilson’s imagination.

5. “The Private Life of Bill and Sue”: I really like this tune. A very Brian-esque kind of lyric about reality TV, with a very catchy chorus. Funny that a lot of fans don’t seem to like this one, but I do. The falsetto in the chorus makes it for me.

6. “Shelter”: This is the most “Brian Wilson solo” sounding song on the album; it sounds like an Imagination outtake. Agree with a lot of fans where this is the one tune that begs for Carl Wilson’s voice in the chorus (sung by Jeffrey Foskett instead); Foskett’s voice is just not strong enough to carry the load. The vocal work on the last two choruses is deceptively intricate, another reminder of just how unique the Beach Boys sound is when you have them all together doing Brian Wilson arrangements.

7. “Daybreak over the Ocean”: A tune that has seen both official (and unofficial) release on previous Mike Love solo efforts. It’s a puzzler to me as to why it’s on this album. The lyrics are entirely banal, and while the harmonies are OK, they’re not as dense and they sound different from the rest of the album (primarily due to the different personnel involved). The liner notes say there are backgrounds by Brian, Bruce, and Alan, but they’re not pronounced by any means. Still, it’s pleasant enough, and Mike’s lead helps create a little variety and a sense of group involvement.

8. “Beaches in Mind”: Sounds like something Jimmy Buffett and Alan Jackson might have conjured up more than anything else – it’s the dreaded kind of “Margaritaville Lite” vibe that Mike Love went gaga over after the success of “Kokomo”. Other fans appear to like this tune more than I do – to me, there’s not a whole lot of “there” there, and the Mike Love lyrics are puerile at best. I think it’s the weakest song on the CD for sure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still eminently listenable. Which it is.

….it’s here that I really think “Think About The Days” belongs, and when I re-program my own version this is where it’s going to go. Hear the remaining four songs after what has come previously and you’ll see what I mean. If this were an LP, “Think About The Days” would be a good candidate to start side 2, as it sets the proper mood for what is to come.

9. “Strange World”: A very busy Brian arrangement that unsuccessfully (at least to my ears) hides a melody that really doesn’t do much. This sounds very “90s” to me, like another Imagination follow-up. Lots of other fans seem to like it a lot more than I do – to me it’s just a little too much “Brian” and not enough “Beach Boys”. I find it hard to believe they couldn’t find better material than this, but much more interesting things are to come…

10. “From There to Back Again”: A classic Beach Boys-sounding recording that could fit easily on any of their albums starting with 1965’s Today and sound great; it has that kind of timeless sound. The song is not just one of Alan Jardine’s best vocals of his Beach Boys career, it features that oh-so-unique Brian Wilson touch that makes it a “true” Beach Boys song – a bona fide tag (featuring, no less, Jardine whistling). Magnificent, intricate vocal work, a wistful and uniquely (for The Beach Boys) mature lyric, it’s the whole package. And it sounds better with every listen.

11. “Pacific Coast Highway”: A simple, melancholy Brian Wilson tune that one could easily envision being written (and sung) by the late Dennis Wilson:

Sometimes I realize
My days are getting on
Sometimes I realize
It’s time to move along
And I wanna go home

Sunlight’s fading and there’s not much left to say

My life, I’m better off alone
My life, I’m better on my own

Driving down Pacific Coast Highway One, the setting sun


Thematically, the song takes it’s rightful place next to “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” from Pet Sounds and “‘Til I Die” from Surf’s Up with its sense of loneliness and resignation, but with a deeper sense of maturity and the passing of time. Brian’s vocal is fine, but without another distinctive voice like Dennis’ to utilize, his vocal stylings can begin to sound a little repetitive. The group’s “goodbye” vocal at the end sets the stage for the album’s closing track.

12. “Summer’s Gone”: Ushered in under a backdrop of ocean sounds, the mood is somber, even grim, lightened only by the lovely background vocals. The lyrics are equally poignant in their sense of resignation and finality:

Summer’s gone
It’s finally sinking in
One day begins
Another ends
I live them all and back again

Summer’s gone
I’m gonna sit and watch the waves
We laugh, we cry
We live then die
And dream about our yesterday

As gorgeous as the tune is, it would have been more effective (at least in my view) had it been cut about a minute shorter – it would have strengthened the overall message being conveyed. As the song ends, the sounds of raindrops on an empty beach gives the same sense of finality as the way Brian closed out Pet Sounds, with the train passing into the distance. One can’t miss the underlying message that the album’s close also signifies the close to the Beach Boys’ recording career. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s the way it sounds to me.

So there you have it. If I was to grade the album, I’d say it’s the best Beach Boys release since 1979’s LA (Light Album). It’s unmistakeably a Beach Boys album in both it’s feel and sound. At it’s lighter moments, it’s fun and pleasant-sounding to the ears; when it gets more serious towards the end, the arrangements are stunning. Both Carl and Dennis Wilson are very, very missed here, and one wonders if tossing David Marks a bone wouldn’t have helped alleviate that a bit. If, in fact, “That’s Why God Made The Radio” is the group’s coda in terms of original recording, it’s not a bad way to go out. Just the fact that the group was able to come together one final time to make music together that only The Beach Boys could make is nothing short of a miracle.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:32 | Comments (3)
  1. And I will be getting it this week

    Comment by Jana — June 9, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  2. You don’t have to, I’ll be getting it for you. My mix is awesome.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — June 9, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  3. You are the BEST!!!!!

    Comment by Jana — June 10, 2012 @ 5:20 am

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