With new album, The Beach Boys attempt to remain relevant in an ever-changing industry


Photo courtesy of The Beach Boys.

William Malsam

The classic American band turned 50 this year, and the original boys of summer commemorated the event by releasing “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” the first album to feature new compositions by the group since 1996. This iteration of The Beach Boys has three of the remaining original members —­­ including a strong effort from Brian Wilson, the mastermind behind the ground breaking album “Pet Sounds.” Wilson helped produce the entire album and co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks, which is good news for Beach Boys fans.

“That’s Why God Made The Radio” is a modern reprise of The Beach Boys’ sound from the ‘60s: stories of summer loving, freedom and fun told through expertly written vocal harmonies. Although a 50 year-old act, they still sound youthful and can harmonize with the best of them; however, their voices have deteriorated a bit from age, and digital post-production is used in every song in order to insure a smooth recording. This combination of modern production and ‘60s pop can be off-putting at first, but the album has enough gems for the listener to overlook the studio magic tricks.

This album is more than just love songs; it addresses new themes that are present in the lives of the Beach Boys: time, memory and age. The first track, “Think About The Days” hints at these themes with an elegiac vocal instrumental which sounds almost like a Gregorian chant. The second song, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” is a strong juxtaposition from the first with its upbeat backing track and malt shop atmosphere. However, the song is still nostalgic, singing of a time when everyone listened to the radio and the band was on top.

To keep up with today’s music industry, The Beach Boys experiment with new genres and backing instruments with both success and failure. Carefree Jason Mraz-like ukulele pleasantly compliments their beach sound on “Isn’t it Time”, a song which features the most memorable chorus of the album. “Spring Vacation” has a John Mayer style with silky guitar solos and jazz organ that falls short of its desired effect. Unlike most of the borderline banal lyrics on the album, Wilson crafts a thought-provoking jab at the ever prevalent reality TV world with “The Private Life of Bill And Sue.” Here, the group at least manages to successfully update their subject matter.

Despite their best efforts, the album is at its worst when the group tries to overly modernize their sound. “Day Break Over the Ocean” and “Beaches in Mind” are two songs in which the digital age and old-time ‘60s harmonies simply clash; auto-tuned harmonies, digital percussion, and even talk boxes make these tracks alien to any generation.

The strongest part of the album, the part which provides depth, is the suite at the end the release. Here Wilson beautifully elaborates on the somber themes alluded to at the start of the album. These ballads expound upon the bitter sweet nature of growing old. Wilson admits this in “Summer’s Gone,” “Summer’s Gone/ I’m gonna sit and watch the waves/ We laugh, we cry/ We live and die/ And dream about our yesterday.” This album may not be up to par with The Beach Boys of yesteryear, but it’s a strong coda for one of America’s greatest bands.