By all rights, The Beach Boys have already accomplished the improbable, if not the impossible. So it seems almost curmudgeonly and unfair to criticize their accomplishment. And apart from a couple of albums from a long long time ago - one of them just released last year - The Beach Boys were never an album band.
So to call "That's Why God Made the Radio" a sub-par or disappointing effort is sort of not the point.
But definitely do not be fooled by the rush to praise this album. Beach Boys prodigal son and composer Brian Wilson, back in the fold with the band for the first time in 30 years may be the most-protected artist in the world. It's almost as though the world is afraid to criticize Brian Wilson for fear being the cause of him crawling back into his room and not coming out ever again.
And there is some quality here. Amidst the Autotune. Had anyone ever suggested to me that The Beach Boys would need or use Autotune, I'd have laughed myself silly. But those mechanical sounds float through here and will prove to be as annoying in 20 years time as the early electronic drums from songs in 1980s sound now.
When I first read the title of the album, I winced. It sounded sadly out of place, like a retro wish. The only thing I could think was, "Really? God made radio so Clear Channel could control what everyone hears?" So I was pleasantly surprised to listen and realize the song could have fit comfortably on an album like 1965's "The Beach Boys Today!" (In fact, part of the appeal is it reminds me of "Kiss Me Baby" from that album.) And the next song on the new album, "Isn't It Time," is a pleasant and memorable tune.
And by all logic, these men have such distance and animosity between them, they should never have been able to survive in a room together, let alone create art. (A recent Rolling Stone story on the group clearly draws the lines, with singer/stage leader Mike Love on one side, cutting corners wherever possible to maximize profit, and Wilson on the other side, wanting to "scare people" with concert song selections from deep in the band's rich catalog.)
And there's nothing inherently awful about the album, with the possible exception of "The Private Life of Bill and Sue," a ham-handed broadside at reality TV culture and its followers. And at that, every album is going to have its duds.
"Pet Sounds" and "Smile" are fantatic albums. "That's Why God Made the Radio" is a pleasant enough diversion, but there are lots of other Beach Boys albums I will pull out before I reach for this one. And those other ones for which I'll reach are not great, either.