Brian Wilson is the greatest American songwriter of the past 50 years. I cannot be convinced otherwise. My bias is apparent. And yet I was skeptical when I heard the Beach Boys were reuniting and releasing an album of new material in support of their 50th year reunion tour. I was even more worried after rumors of the reunion almost not happening circulated and the band stumbled awkwardly through a medley performance at the 2012 Grammys. The Beach Boys didn’t need to be the next nostalgia pity act. This had to be a money grab, I thought. Why tarnish their legacy with a sad farewell jaunt across the country? I mean, the guys are old.
So, as The Beach Boys did their thing on the road and TV circuit, That’s Why God Made the Radio was quietly released. And it’s really good. The production is fabulous, the voices feel fresh and Brian, the lone remaining Wilson brother, has delivered another outstanding batch of timeless pop tunes. Most surprising is just how good Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks sound singing. The harmonies are still there, and while the lyrics feel a little rehashed, the melodies are strong enough to carry them.
The Beach Boys didn’t have to make a record this good. They could have easily cranked out a surf-inspired single, then mailed in the rest of the album. Dads would have still bought the record. But the more I listen, the record (and tour) feel more like a proper send off. Sure, it’s about the money, but more than anything, it’s about the music.
Wilson & Co. spend the latter half of Radio on an introspective vibe. “Pacific Coast Highway” is a sparse ballad that could easily fit on Pet Sounds. “Summer’s Gone” closes the record an admits that their favorite season isn’t endless. Wilson sings, “Summer’s gone/I’m gonna sit and watch the waves/We laugh, we cry/We live then die/And dream about our yesterday.” This is it for The Beach Boys. They know it and so should the fans. Enjoy and celebrate this album. It’s the perfect sunset cruise down memory lane.