First up, I have never been an avid follower of the band. For example I still don’t have the Smile records and don’t really even have a vast knowledge or appreciation of Pet Sounds outside of the fact that the album inspired The Beatles to counter with Sgt Pepper.
But I am very appreciative of older artists ‘coming back’ and showing that you can still kick ass at age 70. Look at Paul McCartney who is rocking harder than ever. The dude didn’t start doing Helter Skelter live until he was in his 60s. As I get older, I appreciate that more and more.
Let’s face it – the Beach Boys’ sound has always been unique and incredible. Brian Wilson is right up there with guys like Lennon/McCartney, Syd Barrett, Phil Spector and Jimi Hendrix for creating and propelling a sound from nowhere and into the history books.
Quick abridged history lesson: Wilson went nuts in the 60s and dropped off the map. Got his shit back together last decade and starting making music again, and now this new album. The dude still has it. The recent Rolling Stone article about the current tour and the weird relationship between Wilson and cousin/lead singer Mike Love is also a fascinating read and made me want to get the album to check it out for myself.
So I did. Most of these songs could be right from the 60s – they sound totally timeless. One notable exception is “The Private Life of Bill and Sue,” which is I think about reality TV or tabloid/paparazzi. But musically, the tune also sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth as God Only Knows.
After numerous listens, there really is not a bad track on this album (12 songs, 38 minutes), but for me the standouts are the title track, Isn’t It Time, Spring Vacation, and The Private Life, plus the last three songs on the album – but more on that in a second.
Lyrically, most of the songs are about the usual stuff you’d expect, like cars, girls, the sun, the beach.
Except for the last three songs, which make up a very heartfelt, retrospective suite that is sure to live as an epitaph along the lines of the Beatles’ The End from Abbey Road. The first tune of the suite is called From There to Back Again:
Why don't you run away and spend some time with me
On this summer's day, there's nowhere else I'd rather be
Why don't we feel the way we used to anymore
There's a place along the way, that maybe we could stay
And listen to the waves at my front door
This songs transitions into the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway, which simply says:
Sometimes I realize my days are getting on
Sometimes I realize it's time to move along
And I wanna go home
Sunlight's fading and there's not much left to say
My life, I'm better off alone
My life, I'm better on my own
Drivin' down Pacific coast, out on highway 1
The setting sun
The last song in the suite, Summer’s Gone, is just one big Beach Boys’ harmony-laden reflection of a sunset at the end of a life:
Summer’s gone away
Old friends have gone
They’ve gone their separate ways
Our dreams hold on
For those who still have more to say
Gone like yesterday
The nights grow cold
It’s time to go
I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay
Another summer gone
It’s finally sinking in
One day begins
I live them all and back again
I’m gonna sit and watch the waves
We laugh, we cry
We live then die
And dream about our yesterday
The song fades out to the sound of a gentle rain, presumably on the beach. Quite the contrast to sun and surf, tans, cars and girls. Heavy shit for a Beach Boys’ album. But really, really nice stuff.
So, enjoy this and be thankful that Wilson at 70 can still make albums that sound like he is in his 20s but with the life’s experience gained over the bridge of those years. Be thankful these guys can still deliver those textured, gorgeous harmonies – maybe a slight digital tweak here and there, but that can be forgiven. Be thankful that no one forced Wilson to hire Jeff Lynne to crap all over the production. Be thankful that if this reunion turns out to be a total one-off, or one more of these Wilson guys dies, we still got this one last GREAT Beach Boys album.
Below is the official video for the title track. If you like this song, get the album. If you don’t, you ought to pass on it.