Up to this point, all my in depth reviews have been on Southern Gospel albums, though I’ve occasionally mentioned other music, and even did a mini-review of a Brian Wilson album. That streak ends here, though this is likely to be an aberration instead of the start of a trend. My love for the Beach Boys is no secret on this blog, so if I were ever to make an exception to my SG only reviews, it should come as no surprise that it would be for the new album from the surviving Beach Boys, including Brian Wilson, on their 50th anniversary. On this album are Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks, though Marks is credited solely with guitar work and no vocals, with long time Beach Boys and Brian Wilson sideman Jeffrey Foskett providing falsetto vocals. Wilson produced the album, while Mike Love served as executive producer.
- Think About The Days – This is a wordless opening to the track composed by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas featuring acappella vocals from The Beach Boys (plus Foskett) with some light piano and french horn added. Hearkening back to the “Our Prayer” that was to open the Smile album before resurfacing on 20/20, it sets a touch of a melancholy mood for the album with its minor key, but the vocal harmonies are stunningly beautiful. Even after 50 years, the group can still create effortless harmonies that shimmer. 9.5/10
- That’s Why God Made The Radio – The first new single from the Beach Boys in roughly 20 years also serves as the title track to the album. Written by Brian Wilson, Jim Peterik, Larry Millas, and Joe Thomas, it is a midtempo tune with a bit of a doo-wop feel. Wilson has the lead on the verses, with Al Jardine taking the last two lines of each verse with full on group harmonies on the chorus. There’s a bridge that has a bit of a harder edge to start out with some incredible harmony on the phrase “a whole new generation” that is repeated leading to a tag that has the round like vocals that you find on classics like “California Girls” or “God Only Knows.” It’s better than anyone realistically could have expected from the group, but the best is yet to come… 9/10
- Isn’t It Time – This is an infectious midtempo number that my 5 year old daughter has immediately latched on to as her favorite song. Written by Wilson, Love, Peterik, Millas, and Thomas, it’s got a bouncy rhythm that is driven by a ukulele of all instruments, and features Brian Wilson on the first verse with some duet lines by either Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston, it’s a little hard to tell. The chorus features Foskett, Johnston, and Jardine to my ears. There’s a nice little vocal lead in to the second verse, performed by Mike Love. The bridge features Foskett and Love with some gorgeous background harmonies. The chorus is repeated with Love taking the first two lines an octave down from where it had previously been sung. I think this is probably the most radio friendly song on the disc. It’s incredibly catchy and will have you singing along. 9.5/10
- Spring Vacation – This is a mid to uptempo pop tune written by Mike Love, Brian Wilson, and Joe Thomas. Love takes the lead on the verse with Bruce Johnston taking a line or two from him. Brian Wilson takes the melody on the chorus. This song is a quintessential Beach Boys “fun in the sun” type song, and would be right behind “Isn’t It Time” as a radio ready song. There’s a really nice chord progression in the verses. The harmony on the bridge is outstanding. When you think of The Beach Boys, this is the sound that comes to mind. 9/10
- The Private Life Of Bill And Sue – Written by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas, this is a tropical flavored song that is a commentary on the reality TV phenomenon. There’s more than a slight resemblance to “South American” from Wilson’s Imagination solo album. Wilson has the melody through the entire song with some great harmony behind him on the chorus and some nice falsetto work from Jeffrey Foskett. The radio narration at the end of the song is hilarious if you can catch it. It’s a fun little song, but easily the weakest song on the disc. 6.5/10
- Shelter – Again from the pen of Wilson and Thomas, this is a midtempo ballad style song that again features Wilson’s vocals on the verses. Jeffrey Foskett and Mike Love share the melody on the choruses. This song is quite reminiscent of what you heard on Brian’s eponymous 1988 solo album, minus the 80s production. Again, there are gorgeous backing harmonies throughout the song. It’s a pretty solid song. 7.5/10
- Daybreak Over The Ocean – This Mike Love composition, according to what I’ve seen online, is an outtake from a never released Mike Love solo album. The credits bear this out, as the primary vocalists are Mike, Christian, and Hayleigh Love along with Adrian Baker. The other Beach Boys are credited with “Additional Vocals.” This is a slower tropical flavored tune that seems to hearken back to the best elements of Love’s “Sumahama” from The Beach Boys’ L.A. (Light Album). There are simply thrilling harmonies behind Love’s lead vocal, and this is one of Love’s best vocal performances in recent memory. The “bring back” section has been compared elsewhere to the end section of the late 60s single “Breakaway”, and it’s a valid comparison. I happen to like this song a lot, it has beautiful harmony. 8.5/10
- Beaches In Mind – The “fun in the sun” style returns on this song penned by Love, Wilson, and Thomas. Brian Wilson takes the melody on the chorus, with Love taking the melody on the verses. There are some really nice lead guitar licks that I’m guessing are provided by David Marks. This is another solid Beach Boys-esque tune. 7.5/10
- Strange World – Written by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas, this is another ballad style tune. Wilson takes the lead on this song and turns in a really nice performance. The “bum-bum” from the tympani adds a dramatic flair to the chorus. This song is very hard to describe, but there are some really nice vocals and neat chords. It’s a song that seems to build in intensity throughout. That said, it is a really nice tune. 8.5/10
- From There To Back Again – From this point the forward, the album really shines. The next three songs may be the best the Beach Boys have put to record since Pet Sounds. Wilson and Thomas penned this tune, and for the first half or so of the song, Al Jardine performs what may be his best ever vocal as a Beach Boy. His voice sounds just as strong and clear as it did in 1965. The harmony behind Jardine’s vocals is absolutely glistening. About halfway through, some of the Wilson composing magic rears it’s head, as there are pauses, tempo and rhythm changes that are on par with the experimentation he did in the Pet Sounds days. Simply amazing. 10/10
- Pacific Coast Highway – Again from Wilson and Love, this is a short tune that starts with some beautiful acappella oohs from the group. Brian takes the lead on the song, it’s a message of goodbye that is 1 minute 47 seconds of sheer beauty. The full harmony on the final word “goodbye” is beautiful and poignant. 10/10
- Summer’s Gone – This song was written to be the last Beach Boys song ever recorded. Composed by Brian Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Jon Bon Jovi (!), this is a beautiful, wistful ballad. Wilson has the melody surounded by lush, thick harmonies from the rest of the group. It’s a lyric of farewell with shimmering vibes and percussion. It’s as gorgeous as anything Wilson has ever composed. It concludes the album with a very melancholy feel, not totally unlike the way “Caroline, No” ended Pet Sounds. It’s a fitting end to what very well may be the final Beach Boys album. As you hear the sound of waves receding with light chimes as the song concludes, you can’t help but think that this is how The Beach Boys should bid farewell. Wow. 10/10
Overall: 9.5 Maybe it’s just the fan in me. Maybe it’s because of the sheer vastness of the amount of time since The Beach Boys recorded a new studio album, much less one with an engaged and in control Brian Wilson. Whatever the reason, I really love this album. Is it perfect? No. “Bill and Sue” is pretty much a throwaway, filler track. “Shelter” is OK, but not great. I’d have liked to have heard more from Johnston (who is almost invisible outside of the harmony stack on the album), Marks, and Jardine. The album from the title track to “Strange World” is a bit of a mix of mostly good songs, with a few really good ones mixed in. However, the final three tracks on this album rate with some of the best music The Beach Boys have ever put to record.
While they may not have a sure-fire radio hit on the album (though I think there are some good contenders, especially with what you hear on secular radio today!), the album already debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, and is far above what any realistic fan of the group should have expected from them. The lead vocals are all well done, the instrumental tracks are great, the vocal harmonies are still without par, and it’s a great way for The Beach Boys to celebrate their 50th anniversary and ride off into the Southern California sunset. If you like harmony, and like pop music, do yourself a favor and pick up a piece of history in this monumental album. You’ll be glad you did.