Probably the last thing I expected to happen this year was the announcement and release of a new Beach Boys album, and even then any initial thoughts would turn to their previous pitiful non-Brian Wilson effort 'Summer in Paradise' or their ill advised team-up with Status Quo on a remake of 'Fun, Fun, Fun' on which Wilson appeared on the Des O Connor show looking for all the world as if he had been taken to the studio at gunpoint. But The Beach Boys are a strange lot and since the death of Carl Wilson (who purportedly vetoed the last attempted re-union with their stricken leader) there seems to be a lot more harmony in the ranks, despite them each suing each other on several occasions since. Onto the record and what on earth does a 2012 Beach Boys album sound like? Well a mixed bag is the answer. They are going to rise up and produce 'Pet Sounds 2' as much as Paul McCartney is going pen another 'Eleanor Rigby' so we might as well forget all about it but the album truly does have its great moments (onto those later).
It begins with an 'Our Prayer' alike word less harmony called 'Think About The Days' which is slight, if very beautiful before it bursts into the title track which although cheesy, has the great rolling chords and thick harmonies of the best bits of their underrated 'Today' album. From then there are plenty of iffy moments:- 'Isn't it time' plods, 'Spring Vacation' is simply preposterous(ly awful) but even at its worst its insanely catchy sunshine pop. A song like 'Shelter' frustrates the most. Its a quirky typical Brian Wilson tune with a massive bland chorus welded on, presumably by suits who figured the verses and pre chorus bits were just not obvious enough.
A couple more throwaway tracks drift by and just as you are starting to think you are in Jimmy Buffet territory something magical happens, 'Strange World' out muscles its bland instrumentation with what used to be known in the trade as 'a hell of a tune' but that’s just a precursor to the closing trilogy of songs that defines this album and completely saves what is left of the bands tattered reputation. 'From There and Back Again' is just mind numbingly gorgeous. A stridently youthful Al Jardine vocal gives way to a Brian Wilson middle section which is the best thing he's done for years. Half 'Pet Sounds', half 'Surf's Up' its a complex lyrical and musical treat with twists and turns all over the place which seem almost implausible from Wilson, a man who often has the look of someone who can't remember how to put his own trousers on. Its an absolutely magnificent piece of music. 'Pacific Coast Highway' is similarly gorgeous, if extremely brief, the thick piano chords recalling a lost Dennis Wilson ballad underneath Wilson’s heartbreaking lead “my life...i’m better off alone” and closer 'Summers Gone' is just resigned melancholy of the highest order, almost, almost beating 'Caroline No' in the bleak be-trodden album closer stakes. The fact that Brian Wilson has somehow dragged these three musical peaches from his shattered soul truly beggars belief particularly after hearing the majority of the album.
The question is, do you purchase an album based upon a handful of genius moments amongst plenty of by-numbers averageness? Beach Boys fans are used to these conundrums from a band who its generally felt have been washed up since about 1967, but despite everything there’s something that keeps bringing me back to them, as at its best this really is music from the Gods.