That's Why God Made The Radio would clobber us with a tsunami of such devastatingly bad music that even the most ardent Beach Boys devotees would easily believe Satan, and not the Lord, is really responsible for Marconi's wonderful invention. What a pleasant surprise to find that what floated ashore instead were the gentle waves of a really fine album that proves, when given the right set of circumstances, talent never really leaves those who have it.
That's Why God Made The Radio is the first album by California's native sons that Brian Wilson fully participated in since 1985's mildly satisfying, eponymously titled record produced by Steve Levine. It's the only official Beach Boys album not featuring the late Carl Wilson and that's sad because the youngest Wilson brother's voice was always an integral component of their effortlessly beautiful harmonies. Carl was also the man who kept the band together for many years after his big brother lost his way. He is definitely missed.
In addition to Wilson, who is once again in the producer's chair, the famous quintet currently includes original members Mike Love and Al Jardine, longtime member Bruce Johnston, and Jardine's replacement for awhile during their very early years, David Marks. They are helped out considerably by members of their boss's current group, especially bandleader Jeff Foskett. Without him neither Wilson's recent solo work nor The Beach Boys current tour would likely exist. Foskett and company not only assist instrumentally they also contribute to the vocal mix. Wilson's voice is not what it used to be and, while he can still sing, his upper range and falsetto have not aged well.
That said, the group's harmonies are still a wonder to behold, and Wilson's composing and arranging skills are still good enough to make this the finest Beach Boys album since 1973's Holland.
Radio isn't perfect. At times the guys still don't seem to understand they aren’t twenty years old anymore because, as usual, there are numerous references to girls, beaches, and hot fun in the summertime. As expected, the culprit behind much of this stuff is the juvenile Love but because Wilson can still construct dreamy vocal swells combined with lyrics and imagery reminiscent of his Pet Sounds and Smile period the twelve song set is quite a rewarding experience.
"Think About the Days" is the brief opener. Clocking in at only 1:27 it's wordless vocals could be a sequel to "Our Prayer," the opening track from Smile. The song title appears to ask the listener to recall what it was like when this beloved band, who made their first record in 1961 (almost three years before a famous quartet from Liverpool appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show), were at the peak of their vocal powers.
The title cut is next and if you've heard anything from the album on mainstream radio this song is it. It's a piece that takes awhile to reward you with its pleasures but eventually you'll appreciate everything it has to offer.
Lyrically "Isn't It Time," "Daybreak Over the Ocean," "Beaches In Mind," and "Spring Vacation," (the latter actually has the nerve to use the words "good vibrations" in the song) are all examples of Love being stuck in his glory days but his genius cousin's vocal arrangements and sense of melody save the day on every single one of them.
The oddity is "The Private Life of Bill and Sue." It's about wasting time watching reality TV shows when you could be out in the sunshine enjoying life. It seems a little strange coming from Wilson, a man who lost about two decades hiding in his bedroom. If the song is meant as a lesson it sure doesn't feel like one because of its typically bright Beach Boys arrangement.
The final three tracks take us down a different road as the mood becomes far more serious. Jardine's voice graces one of the bands better ballads, "From There to Back Again" and he gives a really fine performance. "Pacific Coast Highway" has a nifty acapella beginning that quickly turns into a sad opus in which Wilson confesses, "My life, I'm better off alone/My life, I'm better on my own." Then he ends the song with just one word: "Goodbye." Lyrically he's saying so long to the sun as it sets over California's most famous road but it really feels like he's saying goodbye to us, his fans, and everyone whoever passed through his life.
On the CD's closer, "Summer's Gone" Wilson uses the end of the season as a metaphor for coming to terms with growing older. He sings, "Summer's gone/I’m gonna sit and watch the waves/We laugh, we cry/We live then die/And dream about our yesterday." The very slow, airy instrumental track also features some woodblock sounds typical of the offbeat percussion its composer often used to great effect back in his heyday.
No one in the band has said That's Why God Made The Radio is a concept album because I'm sure it wasn't intended to be one. However, if you view it that way the album works better. Love's "endless summer" rides the ultimate waive to the finish line and then life takes you on a more mature, thought-provoking ride to the end of your days. When viewed in that context "Spring Vacation" really isn’t so silly after all.
Perhaps more praise is being heaped on the album than it deserves because of the low expectations. However, after repeated listens, the only conclusion one can come to is The Beach Boys golden anniversary album is an affair to celebrate.