The senior citizens of the mythic land of sun, surf and endless summer can still issue good vibrations like it’s 1966, and their 50th anniversary reunion album is awash with sparkling waves of the Beach Boy’s trademark five-part harmonies and big brother Brian Wilson’s majestically complex arrangements and production.
“That’s Why God Made the Radio” is Wilson’s first record with the band in 16 years, and the first in decades to feature all of the surviving original members — Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine, plus guitarist David Marks, who appeared as a temporary Jardine replacement on the first four Beach Boys albums, and longtime keyboardist / vocalist Bruce Johnston.
And it’s like they never split, no one ever had a mental breakdown and none of those lawsuits ever happened. Their voices blend as smoothly as ever on the wordless opening theme, a somewhat melancholy-sounding 90 seconds of French horn- and piano-accompanied harmonic melody called “Think About the Days.”
This moody intro sets the tone for much of what comes after, except for the happy mid-tempo nostalgia of the title tune: “Tuning in the latest star / From the dashboard of my car / Cruisin’ at 7 / Push button heaven / Capturing memories from afar / In my car.” Then there’s “Isn’t It Time,” a handclapping tribute to memories of love when it was young and new, and the warm breeziness of “Spring Vacation,” with its lyrical recollections of good times past.
But things turn a little darker when Wilson begins to puzzle over the meaning of life amid the orchestral swirl of “Strange World,” or feel the regrets of a love eroded by time on the bittersweet, string-laden “From There to Here,” or resign himself to the dwindling years on the beautifully autumnal and haunting “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Summer’s Gone.”
This certainly isn’t all “Fun, Fun, Fun,” sounding more often like Wilson’s Beach Boys swan song, but if this is the band’s last sunset, it is nonetheless a pleasure to behold.
— Gene Triplett