- - Monday, June 4, 2012

That’s Why God Made the Radio

The Beach Boys

Capitol

★★★½

Happy 50th anniversary, Beach Boys. You guys don’t sound a day past 1975.

“That’s Why God Made the Radio” may be a reunion album, but it feels like a time capsule from the band’s halcyon days, thanks to a familiar combination of thickly stacked vocal harmonies and breezy, sun-kissed pop melodies.

Sure, Brian Wilson’s voice has become a raspy shadow of its former self. Yes, his production technique is more straightforward this time around, trading the neoclassical arrangements of “Pet Sounds” for a more crisp, direct sound. Whenever his band mates lift their voices high, though, it sounds like the band’s endless summer has been extended for at least one more season.

Chalk it up to the newfound good will between members, perhaps. Mr. Wilson and Mike Love have always been the yin and yang of the Beach Boys’ lineup, each one tugging the band’s sound in opposite directions, but they meet in the middle on songs like the gorgeous title track. Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks (who played guitar on the band’s first four albums before leaving the lineup in 1963) are also back in the saddle, making this not only the best Beach Boys album in roughly 35 years, but also the first to feature such a complete lineup since 1992’s “Summer in Paradise.”

There aren’t many twists and turns here. The old-timers still sing about going steady, hitting the beach and cruising the California strip, and their songs borrow equally from vintage surf-rock and forward-thinking pop music. Returning fans will be quick to draw connections between these new songs and tracks from the band’s earlier records, too. The 90-second “Think About the Days” is a harmony-laden introduction to the entire album, making it a modern-day version of “Our Prayer,” and Al Jardine’s “From There To Back Again” is a lush, melancholic highlight in the vein of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

The Beach Boys’ surviving lineup was fragmented for years. Retaining rights to the band’s name, Mr. Love and Mr. Johnston toured with an abridged version of the Beach Boys for more than a decade, while Mr. Jardine and Mr. Wilson both hit the road with their own bands. All three lineups played the same songs, and fans were left with the difficult task of deciding which band was the “real” Beach Boys and which two were impostors.

For 39 sun-baked minutes, though, “That’s Why God Made the Radio” manages to transport the listener back to a simpler time, a time when the Beach Boys spent most of their time onstage and in the studio rather than in the courtroom. It’s been decades since they’ve sounded this good. It’s about time.

Americana

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Reprise

★½

“Americana” purports to be a collection of classic folk songs, resurrected from an earlier era and restructured into revved-up Americana rockers. Bruce Springsteen did something similar with “The Seeger Sessions,” an album that paid tribute to folk music’s early days by tackling the songs of Pete Seeger. Neil Young’s sloppy, guitar-heavy interpretation of the Great Americana songbook relies far too heavily on novelty, though, and the performances - which usually sound like first takes - are as messy as smushed apple pie.

A concept album that abandons its concept halfway through, “Americana” mixes a handful of folk classics - including “Clementine” and “This Land Is Your Land” - with mismatched additions like “God Save the Queen” and the Silhouettes’ 1957 hit “Get a Job.” Together, the tunes don’t really sound like Americana music, nor do they paint any discernible portrait of America’s past or present. They’re just loud and grungy, played with brute force by a group of veteran musicians who should know better.

“Get a Job” is the album’s biggest mistake, with off-key doo-wop harmonies grafted onto a sludgy rock ‘n’ roll foundation. The Crazy Horse boys gallop through every measure without regard to tempo or pitch, and they trample the song’s nostalgic appeal into the ground with every heavy step. Really, is this how you honor the past?

“Americana” is more about attitude than aptitude, but that doesn’t save this album from sounding like a good idea gone terribly awry.

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