The blanks have been filled in this time around by songs that Wilson began recording over the last decade with Wilson insider and That's Why God Made the Radio co-writer/ghost-producer Joe Thomas (who also co-produced Wilson's 1998 solo album, Imagination). Most are refugees from Thomas's hard drive — a fact Wilson backs up, clarifying to me over the course of our interview that work on the title-track began 14 years ago. In fact, according to Wilson, only two tracks — "Shelter" and "The Private Life of Bill and Sue" — were written specifically for this album.
"It's quite an event, they are great singers. You know?" says Wilson of the reunion, of which he also offers no clues as to the future of the band. "It's like it reverts back to the '60s. Very mellow harmonies."
Now all around 70, the surviving Beach Boys are unique, interesting men, each with his own independent ideas and musical focus. They can put the grudges and lawsuits of the past behind them, smile, and move on. Their unquestionably brilliant arsenal of hits is enough to cure any ill feelings, really, as they all still remain enamored with the music of Brian Wilson. "I'm in awe of what we did," says Al Jardine, from the road in Chicago, a sentiment echoed by perhaps the biggest Beach Boys fan of all time, Love himself.
"We've been doing it since childhood," says Love from the tour bus. According to the polarizing singer, the group's synthesis of close-harmony, doo-wop, choral, rock, and experimental vocal work is not something they spend much time agonizing over. "It sounds incredibly hard, but it's not really."
For anyone concerned that any record that re-aligns the Wilson and Love camps might be lousy, the coast is mostly clear. The albums starts promisingly with a bittersweet, wordless piece "Think About the Days." ("We wanted to ease into the album," explains Wilson. "We wanted to soften people up.") Then it flows optimistically into the title track — a breezy shuffle with copious key changes, similar to their 1980 single "Goin' On." Next, a loose Brian & Mike throwback called "Isn't It Time" finds the cousins playfully reminiscing about the old days. Predictably, the album then descends into a no-fly zone of Buffett-esque Florida rock, complete with steel drums and overly thick harmonies. The Beach Boys, however, do a pretty great job of redeeming themselves at the end, impressing with a three-song Pet Sounds–esque suite that refreshingly slays most things that Beach Boys clonevs have tried in recent years.
And Wilson is right. The Beach Boys harmonies on this go-round are indeed mellow (aided unfortunately by the assistance of Wilson's personal falsetto stand-in Jeffrey Foskett), but unsurprisingly in light of the present business arrangements, neither Love, Johnston, nor Jardine is very familiar with the album at all. Love did contribute one original, "Daybreak Over the Ocean" (also several years in the making), and Jardine mostly wants to talk about his new solo album. Not coincidentally, while the Beach Boys toured Japan in 1966, Wilson stayed home, writing and recording the Pet Sounds album completely outside of the band's involvement. Some things never change.