For the first time in 16 years, Brian Wilson records with the band that made his name.
Ian Winwood 2012-06-06
To British ears of the day, the music made by The Beach Boys could hardly have sounded more magical had it emanated from Narnia.
In a time when ration books and homity pie were hardly distant memories, here came this group from southern California – in the early 1960s, itself a mystical place – singing four-part harmonies that referenced hamburger stands, Coupe de Villes, sunshine and surfing. The group’s members had sandy hair, bronzed skin and impeccably sculpted teeth; their vivacious and graceful manner made the British seem stiff and a step behind the times. And the music they made had no precedent, nothing less than the sound of liquid diamonds.
In the intervening half a century – a large part of which bandleader Brian Wilson spent in bed – The Beach Boys set the standard for dysfunctionality. With a rear-view mirror that looks back on a wasteland of drug addiction, mental illness, quack psychologists, personal conflicts, cults and lawsuits, the very fact That’s Why God Made the Radio even exists borders on the miraculous. And it is this that makes the lacklustre nature of much of the material on offer itself so disappointing.
Whereas once this was a group whose effervescence gave their music the sparkle of life, today The Beach Boys are merely slick and anodyne. At least part of the blame for this can be laid at the door of this album’s engineering and production, the sterility and cleanliness of which affords these 12 songs all the warmth and personality of a motorway hotel’s car park.
On the occasions when the dentist’s-waiting-room sound fails to prevent The Beach Boys from becoming airborne – the gliding chorus of The Private Life of Bill and Sue being a fine example – the group’s sense of sonic unity can be awesome. In this sense The Beach Boys haven’t mislaid their talents so much as they’ve hidden them away. But with a frontage of songs that have been polished and calmed to a boring finish, for the most part those talents are very well hidden indeed.