Neatly coinciding with the band’s 50th anniversary, this album is the TWENTY NINTH the band have released in their incredible career! Musical content aside, this album is noteworthy for a number of reasons; it’s the first album of new material they have released in twenty years, it’s the first to feature guitarist and vocalist David Marks since 1963(!) and it’s the first release by the band since the death of Carl Wilson in 1998. It debuted at number two in the US album charts (their best position since 1965) and places them second on the all-time longest span of top 10 albums list at 49 years, just behind the late Frank Sinatra who’s on 52 years.
A great many of you may be wondering why the hell the band would bother releasing an album of new material after they’ve achieved so much over the years. Well, besides the allure of potentially knocking ol’ blue eyes off top spot in the aforementioned list, they are currently embarking on a world tour and new material is usually a precursor to such things. Additionally, someone of Brian Wilson’s ilk is possessed of a perennially creative mind that must have an outlet. The fact that he is 70 is also no doubt spurring him on to use what time he has left creatively, as he did spend a great many wasted years living as a paranoid, drug addled recluse in his Bel Air mansion.
Most of the songs on this record were written or co-written by Wilson, with Mike Love making some generous contributions and a fellow by the name of Joe Thomas (who has worked with Paul McCartney and Elton John) also collaborating on some of the material. Bizarrely, John Bon Jovi is a co-writer of the final track “Summer’s Gone”! The album was produced by Wilson himself, further testament to the man’s incredible talent.
Right, so, the music! Well let’s get something clear straight away. This record is a straight ahead pop work. There is none of the sometimes-mind-blowing-sometimes-terrible ambitious psychedelic experimentalism of Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile or er…Smile. This is the band as they were in 1965 and it bears much resemblance to Today and Summer Days (and Summer Nights). It’s a sun-soaked, fun-filled, light-hearted, wholesome summer breeze of an album. That sentence will either make you grin with delight or puke with disgust depending on your point of view, but there is really only one darkish moment, the wonderfully melancholy “Pacific Coast Highway”.
The album begins in a similar fashion to Brian’s Smile project of 2004 (The original 1967 Smile Sessions were released in 2011) featuring a short a capella intro with fantastic vocal harmonies easing us into the brilliantly catchy title track. Listen to this song and try to get it out of your head… It’s impossible! Being a Beach Boys record, of course the vocals and harmonies are pristine and flawless, with none of the ‘boys (with the very slight exception of Wilson) showing any signs that their rather aged vocal chords have deteriorated one bit. Wilson’s compositional prowess is self evident in most of the tracks, with imaginative, symphonic vocal harmonies applied throughout, but they’re not overdone and many a strong lead vocal takes centre stage.
So how is it any different to the band circa 1965 then? Well for one thing the production is much clearer and Wilson has honed his harmonic creativity to a much more sophisticated point over the years. That being said, the lyrics all deal with the time honoured Beach Boys clichés of summer, sun, surf, cars and girls without exception! Still, why the hell not eh? That’s their forte and it just sounds right coming from them.
It’s all fun-and-games and saccharine, soda-pop good-times then is it? Well, yes and no. Some of the songs are sickeningly nice and a little dose of musical angularity wouldn’t have gone astray here and there. It does suffer a little from a slight one-paced tedium at times, (some pundits would call it “consistency” no doubt), and a little melodic shock or spike here and there would have made the album more dynamic and interesting. Having said that, most of the album never comes close to the atrocity that was “Kokomo”, with the unfortunate exception of “Daybreak Over the Ocean” which is truly nauseating both lyrically and musically. It was written solely by Mike Love, which explains a lot, so blame him for this piece of disgustingly simpering romantic tripe. That aside, most of the album is really enjoyable and is a nostalgic and rewarding musical journey back in time to simpler days of California sun, surf and sand.
Standout tracks are the brilliantly catchy title cut, the calypso and tropicalia tinged “The Private Life” and the hauntingly beautiful “Pacific Coast Highway” in which Wilson laments his age and missed opportunities.
I often feel sorry for bands of a bygone era releasing new material as oldies radio stations won’t play it because it’s not “classic” and youth radio won’t go near it, being “grandpa music”. It’s extremely pleasing to see the album selling so well as it is overall a very good effort which vindicates the band from being accused of flogging a dead horse.
It will be far too lightweight for some, but to quote the lyrics from the title track
“Tuning in the latest star
From the dashboard of my car
Cruisin’ at 7
Push button heaven
Capturing memories from afar
That’s why god made the radio”
Thank you boys. For this, and for fifty years of harmony.
Author – Stewart