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City Lights: It's good to have the Boys back

June 20, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Beach Boys Al Jardine, front, Mike Love, center and Brian Wilson, right perform in Chula Vista on May 25.
Beach Boys Al Jardine, front, Mike Love, center and Brian… (Luis Sinco, Los…)

A few years ago, two of my Canadian cousins were visiting California and stopped back at the house enthused.

The cause of their excitement? They had been driving around in their rental car when the Beach Boys' "I Get Around" came on the radio. After years of listening to the band's lush harmonies, they had finally heard them in Southern California itself — an experience probably more authentic than the rides at Disney California Adventure.

It says something about the timelessness of the Beach Boys' best music that even after Brian Wilson's decades of psychiatric woes, even after all the lawsuits filed by band members against each other, even after years of bad press and tell-all biographies, songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Surfin' U.S.A." still resonate with their vision of a utopian California where life revolves around waves, girls and cruising through the hamburger stand.

Of course, that's one side of the classic Beach Boys. The other is the groundbreaking studio band who challenged the Beatles in the mid-1960s for pop supremacy, whose "Pet Sounds" album may have surpassed any the Fab Four ever made. It's a rare rock band whose catalog includes dozens of songs that have turned into beach party staples and dozens more that critics compare to Beethoven and Mozart.

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When word got around that the Beach Boys had a new album coming out this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary, though, I wondered if either side of the band would emerge intact on the disc. Virtually everything the group has recorded since the mid-1970s has drawn widespread critical scorn, and furthermore, anyone who has heard Bob Dylan in recent years knows how age can ravage a once-powerful voice.

So now "That's Why God Made the Radio," the Beach Boys' 29th studio effort, is in stores. And considering all the doubts mentioned above, the word "comeback" barely suffices here. "Resurrection" might be more appropriate.

OK, the album isn't "Pet Sounds," and there's no individual track that astonishes like "Good Vibrations" or "Heroes and Villains." Most of the songs could be described as musical comfort food: upbeat melodies, chipper harmonies and lyrics — "We got beaches in mind / Man, it's been too much time" — that won't threaten Joni Mitchell's place in history.

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