They may be pushing 70, but that hasn’t stopped The Beach Boys from giving us yet another offering in the form of their latest album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” The album, released June 5, marks 50 years since brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson; their cousin, Mike Love; and longtime friend Al Jardine first gave the world a taste of their Californian, sun-drenched rock.
The album will be celebrated with a grand tour to mark the occasion. It is also their first to feature original material from the band since 1992’s “Summer in Paradise,” marking the end of two decades worth of unreleased material and B-sides.
For this new album, Brian, Mike and Al (the three surviving members of the original group) have brought back former guitarist David Marks and frequent collaborator Bruce Johnston. The first listeners and The Beach Boys themselves have described the album as going back to their roots in the late 60s and early 70s.
Indeed, the majority of the album sounds like an addition to their 1966 breakthrough, “Pet Sounds,” and there are multiple references to the songs written during their youth. “Good Vibrations” are mentioned a few times on “Spring Vacation,” for example. This offering also has a vast contribution from other musicians playing various instruments, including piano, violin, banjo, French horn and timpani.
“That’s Why God Made the Radio” opens with “Think About the Days,” a short, soothing piano track that seems to serve the purpose of reminding the listener how far the band has come and how much they have achieved in their 50 years as musicians.
The quintet then launches into the title track, the only single released to date. It is a steady, upbeat number that was actually penned back in 1998, shortly after the death of Carl Wilson. This style is present in many of the following tracks, occasionally varied with a slower, more instrumental song such as “Spring Vacation” and “Shelter.”
For the most part, this album is a playlist for summer, or for, as “Beaches In Mind” mentions, “a place in the sun where everyone can have fun.” It isn’t just the song titles that give it away, but for the majority of the album, you could easily imagine Californians driving around with these songs seeping out of the stereo or simply chilling on the beach.
The album is very relaxing and optimistic for around three-quarters of its length. “Daybreak over the Ocean” is a lengthy ballad written by Love in 1978 that sums up the majority of the content.
With “From There and Back Again,” however, the tempo changes; the last three songs are quieter, melancholic and more piano heavy. The theme changes from sun and surf to loneliness and regret, perhaps seeking to emulate the feeling of the opener in a different light. Violins make a more robust appearance in these last tracks, adding to the effect of sadness that makes the album feel a little deeper.
Lifelong fans of The Beach Boys may view this album as a welcome return to the heyday of their youth. The accumulation of the years has sharpened the sound and given it a new edge. Members of the younger generation may dismiss it as old hippie music, but if they are willing to look past the fact that these guys are now grandfathers, they might find it more enjoyable.