The Beach Boys Reunion: Can They Live Up to Their Legacy?
The news that the Beach Boys are reuniting for an album, tour and all the general hoopla that's certain to accompany their 50th anniversary festivities set to start in earnest next year, rings with a certain irony. Not to mention, plenty of marketing manipulation.
Anyone who caught Brian Wilson, the band's former leader and musical mastermind, in concert over the past decade, will find it hard to overlook the fact that he's mostly a propped up figurehead at this point, one who's ceded the vast majority of his musical and vocal duties to his longtime backing band, the Wondermints. Given his inconsistent showing, it remains to be seen how significant a role he'll play with the revamped Beach Boys, especially considering the fact that two of the band's original mainstays -- Brian's brothers Dennis and Carl -- are no longer around and therefore unable to contribute the mix.
In truth, the Beach Boys brand has never entirely disappeared, despite the heresy of carrying on without the Wilsons' involvement. Mike Love has kept the franchise going for his own financial purposes, claiming legitimacy due to having Bruce Johnston -- who was originally brought in to sub for Brian once he quit touring in the mid '60s -- still in tow. Yet while the Beach Boys legacy and their well-stocked hit catalogue has provided the duo a consistent cash cow, any similarity to the family band founded in Hawthorne California in 1961 is fleeting at best. Family friend and original member Al Jardine (the lead voice on "Help Me Rhonda") left the band several years ago and ended up in a nasty legal battle with Love over his use of the Beach Boys name. Even so, his 2010 solo album Postcard from California effectively captures the sunny spirit of the band's musical climes better than most of what's come from the band's Brother Records organization in recent decades.
The reunion also finds David Marks, the rhythm guitarist who took Jardine's place briefly and early on, back in the fold, providing him the potential for a massive paycheck, the likes of which he's probably lacked since the band's formative years. Marks never made much of a creative imprint on the band, so his inclusion in this reunion is merely a cursory means of gathering anyone who had anything to do with the group originally.
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Still, there may prove to be enough personalities present to give these projects the credence a genuine reunion would demand, but it's doubtful that they have another great masterpiece in them, at least compared to those produced in their fertile '60s heyday. Brian still shows some creative mettle, but it's unlikely he could take the band back into the studio and emerge with anything nearly as groundbreaking as Pet Sounds or the long-delayed Smile opus that was recently reissued as a mammoth multi-disc set. In re-listening to those monumental efforts, or delving deeply into the meticulous overdubs and session set-ups included in the deluxe Smile set, it's clear that the work resulted from a young man flush with inspiration and given the dutiful cooperation of a band willing to do his bidding.
Yet, that may not be the case these days. Brian's brain is scarred from his battles with drugs and psychosis and the other members of the group have been independent way too long to blindly bow to his whims. There may be other good songs in the offing, and they may still have the ability to reconnect harmony-wise, but there's little to suggest they'll be either willing or able to accomplish anything more than what most oldies acts are able to accomplish. Conceptually, the Beach Boys can still be crowd pleasers, but any expectation that they'll bend boundaries like they did during their first decade will probably end in disappointment.
Ultimately, the revived Beach Boys will be best at mining nostalgia by bringing fans back to those hallowed days when surf, sand, sun and fun, fun, fun overrode any worldly cares other than how best to catch that next wave. Yet, given the sad state of the world these days, well... why not? Any distraction from our bickering politicos, plummeting economy and sad state of mind is well worth indulging.
Clearly, those good vibrations are long overdue.
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