The Beach Boys: New Song, Old Sound

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Yesterday, two decades after they last produced an original studio album, pop icons The Beach Boys released a new single, That’s Why God Made the Radio,” off their upcoming album of the same name. The song features the three surviving original Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine) along with semi-original Beach Boys David Marks and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in the ’60s. The group also kicked off a tour on Tuesday night in Tuscon, Arizona, to celebrate their 50th-anniversary; they signed with Capitol Records (still their label) in July of 1962.

(LIST: All-TIME 100 Songs)

Reviews so far are mixed. NPR’s All Songs Considered blog called it their “best new song in 40 years” while the Onion‘s AV Club said it was an “embalmed-sounding hunk of nostalgia.” The 40 years claim is highly debatable; while it’s true that the Beach Boys took a turn away from classic MISSING WORD? starting in the ’70s, “Kokomo” (1988) is pretty darn catchy. The nostalgia part is obvious, however, and not just in the recognizable The Beach Boys harmonies and signature love-cars-music subject matter: In the promotional sizzle reel above, Al Jardine says that being The Beach Boys is “just like riding a bike” and Brian Wilson adds that the song is “just as good as 50 years ago, believe it or not.” But if the song is 1962, it’s 1962 with none of the energy of a track like “Surfin’ Safari” or “409.” More aptly, the sound is far closer to that of the wistful “Caroline, No,” a Brian Wilson solo from 1966’s Pet Sounds—and the effect can be unsettling when the words are about listening to the radio rather than having your heart broken.

The Beach Boys are still, 50 years later, synonymous with American summers, but if this song is any indication—perhaps appropriate for an aging pop band—the new album may be one for September rather than July.

Check out the (very low-concept) lyrics video for the song, and decide for yourself:

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