Beach Boys still singing like angels
Special to The Seattle Times
The Beach Boys7 p.m. Friday at Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14111 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; sold out (425-415-3300 or www.ste-michelle.com).
On one hand, the Beach Boys were a 1960s California surf-rock band that sang like angels.
They made zippy trifles and teen ballads about girls, sun, cars, fun and loneliness — pierced by Brian Wilson's falsetto voice. They had a lasting effect on American music, with songs like "Help Me Rhonda," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby" and "Surfer Girl" still immediately conjuring up California.
But there was also a more complex Beach Boys from the late '60s/early '70s, when the band made personally searching music not majorly concerned about California, but a mental landscape. Albums from that period — "Pet Sounds," "Smile," "Smiley Smile" and "Wild Honey" — are full of childhood themes (brushing your teeth, eating vegetables) and Wilson's studio whims. Some would tell you that unraveled era was the Beach Boys at their best.
But however you look at it, a legendary band is performing at a sold-out Chateau Ste. Michelle this Friday. And since the Beach Boys are far better known in their fun/sun incarnation, the crowd will be bopping to old guys channeling 1965. The Beach Boys' new album, "That's Why God Made the Radio" (Capitol Records), hearkens back to that year. And — innovation be damned — it's actually OK.
At least it's not like the Beach Boys' nadir in the late 1980s, when Wilson emerged from his bedroom, wooden-faced, after years of self-imposed exile, and Mike Love (who sings on "California Girls") became the leader. That was the "Kokomo" era, when hip-hop group the Fat Boys guest-starred on "Wipe Out," an absurd crossover attempt in the vein of Aerosmith and Run-DMC's "Walk This Way."
The good news is that the new album has at least one great, catchy, sophisticated song — the title track. It's the clear standout, with a Brian Wilson chord progression made almost entirely of left turns, and vocal harmonies gliding like zephyrs. Bob Boilen at National Public Radio called it the best Beach Boys song in 40 years.
They've been playing it on tour and have been generally well received by critics, several of whom note the stage decorated with glowing surfboards (which is funny because no Beach Boy ever really surfed, except Dennis Wilson, RIP) and that Love's voice is not up to snuff. But the critics have also been saying that, as a unit, the Beach Boys are singing well, and not fit to be gonged just yet.
It would seem that right now Love, Wilson, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and pinch-hitter Jeffrey Foskett are a serviceable Beach Boys, if not quite embodying the fullness of what that name once meant.