Saturday 18 November 2017

Beach Boys are surfing a wave of pop nostalgia

John Meagher

John Meagher

album of the week

The beach boys

That's Why God Made the Radio



Last year marked the 50th anniversary of a seismic moment in American music -- the birth of The Beach Boys. Little would observers have imagined in 1961 that five fresh-faced Californian boys with a penchant for close harmonies and surfing would go on to be among the most influential bands ever, or that three of the original members would still be plying their trade together more than half a century later.

Yet only two years ago, the prospect of Brian Wilson rejoining old bandmates Mike Love and Al Jardine seemed as remote as Morrissey and Marr patching up their differences.

Wilson had enjoyed a late rebirth as a solo artist and hardly needed to rejoin the warring Love and Jardine, who had fought for more than a decade over who could use the Beach Boys name on the road.

Even now, many of the band's devotees are dismayed by the reunion of their hero Wilson with Love -- a figure regularly cast as the arch villain of the Beach Boys' story, the philistine, it's said, who opposed Wilson's creative flights of fancy from the seminal Pet Sounds album on.

Now, though, their differences have been put to one side and as well as a lucrative tour comes this album of new material -- the first to feature Wilson, Love and Jardine together in 26 years.

The title track and lead single alone suggests the reunion has been worth it.

A Beach Boys song in the classic vein, it's a harmony-driven pop song that would melt even the most cynical of hearts. Wilson's voice may be a little ropey these days, but one can detect a youthful vim and vigour in singing that helps roll back the decades.

Like everything else on this album, this song -- with its faint echoes of Sail On, Sailor and Good Vibrations -- is an exercise in nostalgia, a nod to simpler, not necessarily happier, times.

There's a pervading air of sadness too, not least on the wistful piano ballad as Wilson notes: "Why don't we feel the way we used to anymore? We had a lot to live, we gave it all."

And the two concluding tracks offer an achingly moving meditation on the passing years. Pacific Coast Highway pivots on a standout line: "Sunlight's fading and there's not much left to say", while Summer's Gone offers a stark appraisal of life's rich tapestry as Wilson sings: "We live then die and dream about our yesterday."

It's impossible to hear this line and not think about his brothers and original Beach Boys, Carl and Dennis, both long dead.

Unfortunately, songs of such quality find themselves surrounded by hokey, half-baked efforts in which the band -- Wilson included -- seem to be going through the motions, one eye on the pay cheques.

Still, in the moments when everything clicks, the lazy tracks fade into insignificance.

KEY TRACK That's Why God Made the Radio

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