The West

Still thinking of good vibrations
The Beach Boys. Picture: Supplied.

One of rock'n'roll's longest-running family feuds is enjoying a ceasefire. If you'd have told a casual Beach Boys' fan 12 months or so ago that errant genius Brian Wilson and singer Mike Love were about to reunite and make a new album, you might as well have suggested that hell had frozen in the same breath.

The pair, alongside Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston, have made a fine new record, That's Why God Made the Radio. The troupe are touring the world as part of the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary celebrations, clocking up sets of more than 40 songs per night. The good ol' Boys hit Perth next month.

Wilson rarely grants interviews these days but he was prepared to exchange an email. His answers, like his speech, are brief. Love, on the other hand, is a relaxed old pro, prepared to wax lyrical at length.

According to Wilson, the reconnection, after years of estrangement and lawsuits, happened because "Mike Love asked me if I wanted to do a reunion tour for the 50th anniversary and I said 'Sure'."

That's a view at odds with earlier reports, which suggested that Wilson brought the concept to Love.

Still, Love hardly cares. He just wants to get the band back together. Previously seeing a Love-fronted Beach Boys' near- tribute act is one thing: but this, well, this is as close as we'll ever get to seeing the real deal in 2012.

"We put aside our individual pursuits," Love admits, "and kind of blended the bands (we'd been touring in). There's only one 50th anniversary for anybody and we just decided to go for it and take a lap around the world. We try to do songs in our show that are representative of just about every area and every important album."

The new album, buoyed by the title track, is a well-crafted contemporary mix of sounds that fans were used to hearing on such groundbreaking albums as Pet Sounds and Sunflower.

"I wanted to recapture the harmonies we used to do," Wilson confirms. "It took us three months to record."

"To me a lot of it sounds like 1965, going on 1966," explains Love, "in terms of the vintage feel and sound of the album. I don't think that was intentional but when you've been around for 50 years, it makes sense to revisit some of the themes of the past."

Oddly, the current incarnation of the Beach Boys never existed previously. Wilson, Jardine and Love were there at the beginning. Wilson's writing schedule and subsequent mental health issues took him off the road and eventually out of the band.

Love has been a flag-bearer for decades: some of his Beach Boys incarnations have been good for a singalong but reductive in terms of the group's legacy.

David Marks joined the band in 1962 while Jardine completed college; he played on four albums and left in mid-1963 before rejoining Love and co on the boards decades later.

Johnston, who looks more of a classic Beach Boy than anyone, initially subbed for Wilson in 1965 and has been with Love for four-and-a-half decades.

Pivotal to the Beach Boy's original success were Wilson's brothers, the late Carl and Dennis, who are represented on stage via the wonders of technology.

"We all got together (again)," Wilson says. "I don't remember whose idea it was but we all wanted to honour them somehow."

"We have a screen that shows Dennis doing Forever," Love explains. "We have Carl singing God Only Knows, which he sang so beautifully every night. It's a way of having them join us on this reunion and we back them up. They're singing, we're playing, so it's pretty sentimental, pretty emotional, actually."

Wilson, who has enjoyed a creative renaissance via some fine solo albums alongside the eventual completion of the Beach Boys' 1967 unfinished masterwork Smile, was the brains behind the band's current slice of sonic heaven, the single That's Why God Made the Radio.

It's been widely reported that Wilson started work on the tune more than a decade ago, but shelved it with producer Joe Thomas, earmarking it even then as a possible future Beach Boys' track. Wilson was in Australia when he called Thomas to finish the song but denies the tune's lineage, now stating that it was written this year.

For Love it has the hallmarks of a classic Beach Boys track.

"Well, I thought it was a great title," he says. "Then we went and did all our parts and heard the harmonies coming back in the studio speakers and I said, 'Wow'.

"A lot of time may have passed but there's been nothing lost in terms of the harmonies and Brian's ability to structure those chord progressions. I think there's about every chord ever invented in that song."

With 50 years of hindsight it's interesting to ask Love what advice he'd give to his younger self and band mates.

"Be smarter in business," he laughs, "because the business part is the unfortunate part of it.

"What I would really say is don't do any drugs. My cousin, Dennis, got involved with too much alcohol and too much cocaine and ended his life way too early (in 1983). And Brian taking LSD around the time he was doing the Smile album: he's often said that he wishes he hadn't done that, so the incursion of drugs - that's the major bummer, if there is one, of the Beach Boys experience."

The Beach Boys play Burswood Dome on September 6. Tickets from Ticketek outlets. That's Why God Made the Radio is out now.

The West Australian

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