The Beach Boys, “That’s Why God Made The Radio” (Brother/Capitol)
The Beach Boys strive to smile together through “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” the reunion album tied to the band’s 50th-anniversary tour. This album could easily have been a throwaway, a cynical souvenir suggested by the song “Spring Vacation,” on which the group and studio vocalists sing:
We’re back together
Easy money, ain’t life funny.
Instead, and sometimes despite itself, it’s a reflection on aging and memory, on longing and mortality.
The Beach Boys took the music seriously. Vocal harmonies abound, burnished to modern studio precision. They are sung by the regrouped Beach Boys — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston — with help from Jeffrey Foskett, who hits the high notes when the band is onstage, and others. The production smooths the raggedness of aging voices, although it still lets Wilson’s weary tone through now and then.
There are three-chord rock songs and chromatic wanderings, homages to Phil Spector and knowing allusions to the Beach Boys’ own past. The title track harks back to the stately triplets of “Sail On, Sailor,” and about 2 1/2 minutes into the song, the opulent arrangement drops away to let guitar and bass hint at the intro to “Good Vibrations.”
Most of the album’s 12 songs were written by Wilson with Joe Thomas, who collaborated with him on his 1998 album “Imagination,” and who unearthed some old songs-in-progress for the new album, among them “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” Love joined them in writing three songs, and Love wrote one on his own: “Daybreak Over the Ocean,” an undulating ballad layered with countless oohs and ahs.
Waves, sun and the California coast figure in most of the songs — partly as Beach Boys brand maintenance but also as a lingering symbol of vanishing youth and bliss. The album opens not with bouncy rock but with the wordless vocal harmonies and mournful descending chords of a track called “Think About the Days.” Then the Beach Boys gear up a nostalgia machine: “How about doing it just like yesterday,” they sing on “Isn’t It Time,” which goes on to insist, “The good times they aren’t only in the past” on the way to “doo-be-doobie-doobie” harmonies.
But after Love pushes for optimism in “Daybreak Over the Ocean” and “Beaches in Mind” — which promises, “We’ll find a place in the sun/Where everyone can have fun” — the last stretch of the album turns to Wilson’s more autumnal visions and meandering, pop-defying structures.
In “Strange World,” he sees “the uninvited who’ve lost their way” on the Santa Monica pier. “From There to Back Again,” a wishful, piano-centered ballad that turns into a minisuite, wonders “Why don’t we feel the way we used to anymore?”; near the end, Wilson sings, “We had a lot to live, we gave it all.”
The album ends with two songs of gorgeous solitude. In the hymnlike “Pacific Coast Highway,” Wilson sings, “Sunlight’s fading and there’re not much left to say,” hardly comforted by lush sustained harmonies. And “Summer’s Gone” — written by Wilson, Thomas and, of all people, Jon Bon Jovi — concludes the album in supernal slow motion, evoking “Pet Sounds” with clip-clop percussion, oboe and a gauzy string arrangement. It fades gradually to ocean sounds after Wilson concludes, “We live then die/And dream about our yesterday.”
Good times? Fun in the sun? They’re just distant, aching memories. –Jon Pareles, The New York Times
Big K.R.I.T., “Live from the Underground” (Cinematic Music Group/Def Jam)
Big K.R.I.T. is an up-and-coming rapper from Mississippi. He’s built up anticipation for his debut with his soulful social commentary and slick Southern rhymes on several mixtapes, including “Return of 4Eva.”
Unfortunately, Big K.R.I.T. — whose initials stand for King Remembered In Time — falls short on his first album, “Live from the Underground.” The rapper produced all 16 tracks, but the collection of songs doesn’t measure up to his previous mixtape efforts.
The socially conscious, insightful lyrics that he had become known for are largely absent on “Live.” His rhymes are often too simple, failing to tap his full potential. Even guests like Ludacris, Bun B and Anthony Hamilton fail to generate much excitement.
Still, there are glimpses of promise, including “Hydroplaning” featuring Devin the Dude, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “If I Fall,” with Melanie Fiona.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “Praying Man,” featuring B.B. King, is the album’s standout song where Big K.R.I.T. digs deep, displaying his skills as a compelling storyteller. –Jonathan Landrum Jr., AP