The Beach Boys - That’s Why God Made the Radio
Let me just point out that I’ve NEVER been more terrified to listen to an album, much less analyze and review it. It’s common knowledge that when a band that’s been apart for so long decides to leave behind or put aside their differences and reunite, there will almost certainly be qualities of their past music that will be discounted.
That being said, it’s important for you to acknowledge now that my generation was not raised with The Beach Boys. We belonged to a different time and era. We were introduced early, though. Back then, to us, the band’s name conjured thoughts of “Surfin’ USA”, “Good Vibrations”, cool California breezes and endless waves. Never ever getting old, just wasting life walking up and down infinite beaches–sometimes thriving on the vivacity of youth, packed with the fargone innocent teenagers of yesteryear…
…But other times a meeting of nobody but one’s self and the sands.
And that’s where “Pet Sounds” came in. An album that really meant something. Ignoring the daft-but-fun pap shoveled out by the band in their formative years, it twisted everything about music on its head. Interjecting dog bells into songs. Harmonies thicker than the suffocatingly beautiful colors of a pacific sunset. But, most of all, something deep. Something relatable. The musical equivalent of a timeless teenage tragedy. The flipside of “Catcher in the Rye”. An approach to our collective mindset, sans all the cynicism, but instead making the addition of a wave of emotion. “Pet Sounds” makes everyone cry, at one point of their life or another.
THAT’s where they truly seized the notion of endless youth, and embodied it within mere inches of reality. Nothing else of human fruition has ever come so close to really portraying what it’s like at those delicate ages, and I doubt anything else ever will.
And that’s EXACTLY why it was so hard trying to make myself turn“That’s Why God Made the Radio” on. After sitting on my bed, staring at the ceiling with a headful of lucidly romantic hopes and fantasies, and whispering along to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” so many times, the feeling just sinks in. The Beach Boys ceased to be surfers and cool kids and embedded themselves into my memory as heartbroken and hopeless romantics, as misunderstood as any of us.
That’s not what this is, though. This is an attempt to rekindle that spark, or the lack thereof. This is grasping at the cypher, and reeling back with a handful of nothing. It’s disappointing.
The Beach Boys, or at least Brian Wilson, used to perfectly comprehend the struggles we’ve all gone through. Now, I’m afraid, they’ve all grown up and forgotten. They’re back where we all began, convinced this is all about scampering up and down coastlines, soaking up the sun, and ignoring everything else in this life and the next (if you’re into that). It’s a vivid reality to anyone who has already experienced the age or to anyone yet to hit the mark, but anyone dwelling within the bleak realities of teendom and childhood will only see this is as the mirage it really is–conceived in abrasive short-sightedness.
I’ve spent paragraph after paragraph so far comparing the album to “Pet Sounds”, I realize, which some people might also see as short-sighted. The band has other fantastic albums in their repertoire, including the magnificence that is “SMiLE”, as close to classicism as pop music will ever get. But they weren’t trying to grab hold and pin down any spirit within “SMiLE”. Brian Wilson was simply trying to make good music through unconventional and complicated methods, part of his era’s musical zeitgeist (see: The Beatles, The Zombies, The Rolling Stones, etc). “Pet Sounds” played off of that idea, but molded itself into the mindset of an entire generation–one not fixed by the aforementioned “zeitgeist”, but deeply crammed within the human subconsciousness to emerge at one time or another and to glumly thrive until receding at an undetermined age.
“That’s Why God…” isn’t bad, though. It just drastically falls short of the mark. The harmonies are a bit sappy and contrived and end up sounding more like children’s sing-along songs than The Beach Boys, but I still found myself catching chills, and often. Of all elements of the song, only the harmony is what really retains the spirit of The Beach Boys. Like the angst and passion and longing they once sung about, it’s timeless. It can’t be bottled up, and only men truly chasing their art and their dream after all these years could possibly produce a sound some vibrantly nostalgic and utterly breathtaking, irregardless of the flaws and inconsistencies I can point out.
One moment in particular, though, captures every single emotion, loss, trouble, dilemma, change, metamorphosis, and essence released by the band in past 50 years. The album’s simple piano introduction, “Think About the Days” catapults the listener into the array of struggles experienced by The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson’s mental illness and alienation. Carl and Dennis’ untimely deaths. The band’s inept attempts at maintaining relevance during some of their later years. The eventual demise of the band. Looking back on this, I’m sure there tons of regrets. Maybe this is just a plight for success and money. Maybe it’s pandering to fans of many years, so that they’ll open their arms back up to accept and embrace a band that’s ultimately completely different from what it once was. With a simple, almost-dirgeful piano and a sweeping hum, the first conjunction the boys have made in decades, you too will be wrapped up in the bittersweet existence of The Beach Boys. And though the rest of the album attempts to wipe off that stain of loss and tragedy, the indelible tint bleeds through and markedly shows you why this album couldn’t fail, even if it tried. Is it all good?
No, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Final Rating: B-