Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Beach Boys Albums (Part 3)

by Brian Erickson

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Click Here for Part 2

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

The Beach Boys closed out the 1970s with LA (Light Album), a pleasant if slightly Vanilla return to the democratic-leaning albums from earlier in the decade. Carl and Dennis remained vital songwriting forces while Bruce Johnston's return to the band and promotion to producer proved a steadying move. Brian Wilson was once again slipping away, and the band's commercial fortunes were on the wane.

Keepin' the Summer Alive (1980)

D-

Brian is back...in the throes of bedridden depression and therefore completely absent from this album. Dennis, a fast-declining, wet-brained alcoholic by this point, was coming to the end of his rope, too. Carl, Mike, Al, and Bruce tried the all-for-one approach and the result is an album that's worse than bad: it's boring. Carl's title track (co-written by Randy Bachman) has an undeniable bounce to it, but the infantile throwback lyrics don't do the track any favors and - quite frankly - I just don't care for the Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Weird spoken-word intro aside (and the fact that two of the song's first four words are "wind"), Al's "Santa Ana Wind," can also be called decent. Meanwhile, the only truly interesting production is Mike's oddball "When Girls Get Together." But when you find out it's a throwback from the Sunflower era, things get a little more uneasy. Perhaps the vital creativity that fueled the band the previous 20 years is starting to run out.

The Beach Boys (1985)

D

Five years between Beach Boys albums is by far the longest stretch the group had ever gone. But during that time Dennis Wilson drowned off the coast of Marina Del Rey, evidently looking for a picture of his ex-wife which he threw off the side of his boat a few weeks prior. Carl, meanwhile, released two competent studio albums, proving that he at least still had the will and desire to create new music. Brian had also been re-enrolled in his controversial 24-hour therapy sessions and was therefore present for these sessions, overseen by Culture Club producer Steve Levine. You would think a few of these things - a tribute to Dennis, Carl's continued viability, or Brian's creative reawakening - might yield solid material. Instead, this album is deliberately slick and sopping with period synth sounds. The songs are largely hookless, though the Love-penned "Getcha Back" became a Top 30 hit and remains a concert staple. The album didn't fare nearly as well and CBS/Caribou Records dropped them after a largely-disappointing three-album run.

Still Cruisin' (1989)

F+

After their embarrassing departure from CBS Records, The Beach Boys had no label. As such, they weren't releasing albums. But every few months, they would be called upon to contribute new material to a film soundtrack. Tom Cruise needed a song for his new film, 'Cocktail,' and so Mike Love, with help from 60s also-ran's Terry Melcher, Scott McKenzie, and John Phillips, whipped up, "Kokomo." The song proved to be a massive success, vaulting The Beach Boys back to #1 and becoming one of their best-selling, most popular singles. John Stamos is even in the music video!
The band's old record label, Capitol, settled past scores and decided to offer The Beach Boys a deal of sorts: a compilation of several of those recent soundtrack contributions (including "Kokomo," of course). What we end up with is and album lacking any kind of theme or cohesion. Even worse is that Still Cruisin includes three of the band's 60s classics: "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "California Girls," and "I Get Around," completely untouched, alongside this synthy 80s garbage. Not even Brian Wilson's lone contribution, "In My Car," can save this wreck.

Summer In Paradise (1992)

F

summerinp.jpg

...but it gets worse! It gets SO. MUCH. WORSE. With, Still Cruisin and Summer In Paradise, The Beach Boys have now given us the Summer Days and Pet Sounds of all-time terrible albums. Brian's back out of the band. Al Jardine is gone now, too (suspended for bad behavior; I'm not kidding). Carl has taken a backseat and this is the Mike Love show. He calls Summer In Paradise a concept album about environmental awareness. I don't buy it. Evidently not many other people did at the time as the album went out of print almost immediately. The only thing Summer in Paradise remains famous for is the John Stamos remake of Dennis Wilson's, "Forever." The rest is entirely unlistenable.

Stars & Stripes Vol. I (1996)

F-


If there's a contender for 'Worst Album of All-Time', this has to be on the list alongside, LuLu and Atilla. Country artists sing Beach Boys songs with The Beach Boys acting as the backup group. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons. First, a band should never play on its own tribute album. Second, this might have been redeemed had the artists decided to look at the band's rootsy 70s output instead of their classic 60s hits. Third, it'd be nice if the album had guest artists most people have actually HEARD of in order to drive sales. Unfortunately, that was only the case with a small handful of tracks. Willie Nelson's take on, "Warmth of the Sun," is the only thing that could even possibly be considered palatable. Pity that this would be the last release to feature Carl Wilson before he succumbed to cancer. He deserved to go out on a better note.

Salute NASCAR (1998)

F--

(that's not a mistake, there are two minuses in this grade)

Instead of circling the wagons as Carl had in the 70s, Mike and Bruce took the quick and easy path by rerecording an album's-worth of classic hits and licensing it exclusively to Union 76 Gas Stations. David Marks, who hadn't worked with The Beach Boys since 1963, returns to the fold for probably a respectable pay check as the band was still a good live draw. But no new ideas are flowing through the creative ranks anymore (in concert, Marks - a master guitarist - would excite fans with his innovative soloing; he was eventually asked to play it like the records). By 1998, the group had spent the previous 20 years dying a slow critical death by not capitalizing on the few opportunities they did have. Down to just one matriculating member, The Beach Boys were out of ideas.