So, what will the first Beach Boys album of new material since the early 90s actually sound like? We’ve had our first clue with the release onto the internet of first single That’s Why God Made The Radio, along with lots of interview snippets with various band members, but a 2012 Beach Boys album remains a difficult thing to imagine.
It shouldn’t do really, given that Brian Wilson has been releasing albums fairly steadily since his return to the scene around a decade ago, although his last two were covers of Gershwin songs and Disney songs respectively, while another was the recording of his great lost SMiLE album from the late 60s. He’s admitted that his creative well is pretty dry these days, so how much input will he have had in the writing of new Beach Boys songs?
That leaves a slightly worrying amount of room for the rest of the band, none of whom would really be called great songwriters. Obviously Mike Love collaborated with Brian on lots of amazing songs back in the day, but his contributions to later albums reached their nadir on Summer In Paradise, that hateful last proper release before this new one. As for his solo albums…
Love’s a divisive character, but while few Beach Boys fans could have too much bad to say about affable trio Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, none of them have a great representation in the credits for the best songs the band released. And Johnston’s claims that the new material sounds like classic 70s album Sunflower only heightens the awareness of the two truly great songwriters missing from the current line-up.
The ghosts of Carl and Dennis Wilson linger over this reunion, with the former leaving such a gaping void in the group that they fell apart very quickly after his death from cancer in 1998. Throughout their almost 40 years together, he was the rock that held them together musically and kept them honest after his brother was no longer able to guide them anymore. Listen to their self-titled 80s album and it’s his songs that shine through the over-production, while his occasional vocals salvage something from Summer In Paradise.
Having said all that, I do have faith that this new album will be a world away from that catastrophe. Brian might not be the all-conquering force he once was, but he’s got a great team around him from his solo band, and presumably many of them will be involved, as they will in the live tour. If anything will scupper it, it might actually be too much of a desire to please, as perhaps evidenced in the claim that it will sound like Sunflower and that the album will end with a SMiLE-style suite (a trick Wilson also used on his first solo album).
No-one can really expect them to sound like they did in the late 60s or early 70s, because they aren’t young men anymore. We just want to hear them sound like a band again, and That’s Why God Made The Radio is a very promising start in that respect. The one criticism is that it sounds a little bit too much like a Brian Wilson song, and it will be interesting to hear more lead vocals from the rest. However, it’s nicely produced, with great vocals and sounds exactly like you’d expect the Beach Boys to sound 50 years on from their inception. That’s what the anniversary should be all about, so here’s hoping for an album that gives us that warm feeling. And a UK tour…