Review Summary: As good as anyone could have hoped for from a new Beach Boys album in 2012.
Being that I'm a massive fan of The Beach Boys, I approached their newest album with great trepidation. After all, only seven months prior marked the triumphant release of The SMiLE Sessions
, the mythical album that actually lived up to (and even exceeded) the years of anticipation built up behind it finally seeing the light of day. I didn't want anything to lessen that accomplishment. More than that, I guess I just didn't want to see Brian Wilson embarrass himself this late in the game. Which is why it honestly pleases me to say that, while their new album is (obviously) no Pet Sounds
, it's (thankfully) no Still Cruisin'
More than half of the album is loaded with bright songs that bring to mind the first few post-Pet Sounds
Beach Boys' albums. First single, "That's Why God Made The Radio", even harkens back a little further, sounding like it could have fit right in the middle of the track-list for Today
. Admittedly it's pretty cheesy lyrically, but the harmonies and production are as good as they've sounded in over thirty years. And honestly, the same could be said of the lyrics to a lot of the songs on their first ten albums, so it's not detrimental to the essence of The Beach Boys. That said, not all of the sunnier tracks are winners. "The Private Life of Bill and Sue" ventures a little too far into the schmaltz that plagued the Mike Love-driven incarnation of the band, for example. Still, most of them are adequate ("Spring Vacation") to good ("Shelter"), with a few that are downright great ("Daybreak Over The Ocean", "Beaches in Mind").
However, what really makes the album work are the songs where the band gets introspective. Whereas the introspection on Pet Sounds
focused on Wilson's personal issues and his feelings of not belonging, this time it's a more universal theme, dealing with the pain and sadness of growing old. The final three tracks on the album, which deal with this theme in one way or another, are stunningly good--and in all honesty they push the album from "passable" to "good". First up is the Al Jardine-fronted ballad "From There To Back Again", which is their best ballad since the 70s. Up next is the under-two-minute "Pacific Coast Highway", which makes the most out of its short length with its soaring vocals. But the album closer, "Summer's Gone", is the definite album highlight, in which Wilson's heartbreaking lyrics on aging, losing friends, and knowing he's approaching the late-stages of his life are aided by mournful production and classic harmonization by the rest of the band.
By all accounts, a reunited Beach Boys album released in 2012 could have been the sound of a band coasting, resting on their laurels and simply putting out a quick cash-grab. Luckily they've shown more respect to their fans and themselves, and put out a piece of work that sounds like it had a lot of effort behind it. The band has never quite been the same--and never will be--without Dennis and Carl, so even with obvious effort it doesn't always strike gold. But when it does it hits way closer to the highs of the band in their prime than it should. If they never make another album, they can feel good knowing they went out on a high note, and I can't think of a better song to close out a legendary career than "Summer's Gone"---for a number of reasons.