Monday, 31 October 2016

The Beach Boys "Still Cruisin" (1989)

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The Beach Boys "Still Cruisin" (1989)

Still Cruisin'/Somewhere Near Japan/Island Girl/In My Car/Kokomo/ Wipe Out/Make It Big

Plus: I Get Around/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/California Girls

"For four years straight they ignored the nation, life was occasional shows and lengthy vacations, then The Beach Boys threw a 25th birthday party and got a load of paid rest, because they flung together a 28th album while their career went West, they got the surfboards out the attic and practised their Beach Boys pouts, jumped into the recording studio and promptly fell out, most fans who bought the resulting album could be heard to shout 'gee this is awful - The Beach Boys' career has wiped out!'

In 1987 The Beach Boys became arguably the first rock and pop act to reach an unbroken quarter century in the music business. So much for pop music being ephemeral: here the band were after 25 years with 27 studio albums to show for it - that's a lot of Beach Boys parties to look back on and the world was in a partying and nostalgic mood. After all, what better reminder of youth can there be than early Beach Boys records full of sun, sea and sand? Suddenly the band were popular again because of what they used to represent, a mere few years after a fickle music press had dismissed them as has-beens with nothing new to say even though they'd done nothing different to what they'd always done, trooping up and down the world spreading good vibrations. The band was caught napping when their quarter anniversary came along, but slowly the juggernaut rolled into gear and The Beach Boys were suddenly everywhere. 'Kokomo' was the first evidence of this goodwill - a minor chart hit in America but only the band's second #1 hit in their homeland (after the song's polar opposite 'Good Vibrations' 22 years before; a comparison between the two hits ends there), quickly followed by a number of high profile inclusions in late 1980s summer blockbusters. It only took a small nudge to get the contract-less band back into the studio to make another album, four years after the last non-charting self-titled disappointment - and what's more The Beach Boys were welcomed back to their old paymasters Capitol for the first time 1969. No one knew better than The Beach Boys that careers come in waves and - twenty years after being dropped from the label they turned into millionaires virtually single-handed, the surf was well and truly up.

However, though the audiences were ready to re-appraise The Beach Boys, the band themselves don't sound quite so sure. This latest Beach Boys party doesn't quite have the feel of the others somehow - the band are at the peak of their 'musical differences' with one another, with major lines drawn between the 'Brian song', the 'Carl cameo', the 'Al album track' and Mike and Bruce doing the rest, with no real interaction or any of the once good vibrations. It's not a full party either - everyone seems to have got bored and left partway through, with the half hour playing time the shortest since the early 1970s (a shocker in the new age of digital compact discs and 80 minute running times). What's more around six of those precious minutes are oldies tracks every self-respecting Beach Boys fan already owned several times over (although their presence did make more sense in 1989 than they do now, with 'I Get Around' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' and 'California Girls' having all appeared in film soundtracks during the past year - and this was the first chance many fans had to buy these songs on CD to boot). In many ways this trip down memory lane makes sense: after all The Beach Boys are back 'home' and history is repeating itself in more ways than one, with Brian Wilson again a pale shadow of himself and undergoing medical treatment for most of the album (with the shady character of therapist Eugene Landy sharing songwriting credits and persuading a less than eager Brian to make peace with brother and cousin and friend long enough to get some money in the bank. Brian hadn't been this unenthusiastic a participant since those last Capitol sessions in1969). That leaves seven 'new' songs on this rather sorry album, of which no less than four had already been heard as singles or on film soundtrack records and the overall feeling that The Beach Boys are just trying to cash in on their name and make some money while they can, taking advantage of 'good vibrations' before they disappear again. Mike refused to work with Al who recorded 'his' song alone, Carl struggled to keep the peace and ended up the only person talking to everyone and Brian sent in his song without even going near the album sessions (not unusual for Beach Boys records in the making it's true, but a crying shame given what happened the last time the band were on Capital and were persona non grata and still pulled together to make 'Sunflower', one of their better records which sold far fewer copies than this one - don't you just hate it when that happens?)

In other words, the world threw a party for The Beach Boys and pretty much any old rubbish they released would have sold just out of sheer goodwill; but they were too busy rowing away from the spotlight to put in much of an appearance at their own festivities so what we got was indeed that pretty much any old rubbish. Suddenly that 'cruising' title doesn't seem so funny: a few roars into top gear would have done this album the world of good. There are, you see, moments on this album that make previous horrors like '15 Big Ones' and 'MIU' seem like art by comparison. The response to 'Still Cruisin' was poor (the general reception to this birthday gift: the perennial 'You shouldn't have...No, really, you shouldn't have!') and most fans don't even consider this a 'proper' album today with its short running time and lack of Brian Wilson whilst even money-spinners par excelence Capitol baulked at the idea of re-issuing it along with the band's 1960s albums on CD across all the many 1980s, 1990s and 2000s re-issues down the years (making this the first of two Beach Boys albums to have been out of print for the best part of another quarter century). You'd never ev-uh play this to a newcomer and tell them that the mind-numbing commerciality of 'Kokomo', the cringing white reggae of 'Island Girl', the eccentric relentlessness of 'In My Car' or especially the (dear God what were they thinking?!) unfunny guest rapping by The Fat Boys on 'Wipe Out' represented everything that was great about The Beach Boys, four examples of a band taking the money and surfing. If you're missing this album (and the odds are in favour that you are, especially if you discovered the band sometime from the 1990s on) then, well, I wouldn't worry too much - even my inner completist is struggling for reasons you'd want to spend good money listening to a tired band intoning about an island paradise for roughly the price it would take to actually go there for real and have a holiday (well, a cheap package one for one night anyway, don't get too excited).

However, unlike every other review of this album ever written, this album isn't hopeless. Along with sequel 'Summer In Paradise' there are moments here where you can hear a great album trying to fight it's way out of the dross and The Beach Boys' natural 1960s pop stylings fit rather better into the 1980s universe of big drums and beauty-over-brains rather more naturally than many of their competitors. 'Still Cruisin' is a 'Do It Again' for a new generation and updates The Beach Boys sound without falling into too many period traps along the way. 'Somewhere In Japan' is a collaboration between Mike Love and The Mamas and Papas' John Phillips that's infinitely more memorable than 'Kokomo' about his daughter Mackenzie (named for godfather singer Scott Mackenzie) getting stranded away from home which brings out the best in two concerned dads as well as spoofing the sound of 'Wilson Phillips', the trio Mackenzie's sister Chynna formed with Brian's estranged daughters Wendy and Carnie. Carl's big chance on this record, with his starring role on 'Make It Big' (the only good thing about the 'Troop Beverly Hills' movie) is also an under-rated song: no carat gold classic but arguably what The Beach Boys should have been doing: a catchy song with a message and some excellent harmonies. In fact the band sound pretty good throughout this record, considering they weren't actually together for any proper length of time while making it and this sounds much more Beach Boys-like than, say, the last album simply called 'The Beach Boys' with the vocals up high and the production bombast limited. The trouble isn't, as so many reviewers have claimed, that The Beach Boys couldn't cut it anymore with the big boys - it's more that they could only get it together for short bursts and having three half-decent new songs compared to four big mistakes and three re-hashed oldies that are treated to pointless tinkering and re-mixing isn't cruising so much as crashing the car. All the goodwill of the album is blown away the minute The Fat Boys start preaching about surfing (when they've clearly spent even less time on a surfboard than water-phobic Brian) or when the faintly patronising 'Kokomo' finds the easy route to chart dominance as a lesser man's 'California Girls' from a lesser period in musical history. There are lots of good things about 'Still Cruisin' (arguably more than on '15 Big Ones' or 'MIU' incidentally), but the things that are bad are so bad you feel 'God only knows I'm thankful that's over' rather than 'yippee I want to hear it again'. Quite likely none of you have ever heard this album more than once a year - I can't say I had until reviewing it - 'Still Cruisin' just isn't that sort of a record, more 'Wet Sounds' than 'Pet Sounds', more 'weed' than 'Sunflower' and 'So Tough' to listen to rather than 'Carl and the Passions'.

The original concept made a lot more sense than the diluted version we got here (and, fun as it is to laugh at Mike Love as the band's bogeyman, this isn't the first or last time a Beach Boys album might have turned out better if the band had taken his lead). After the film 'Cocktail' helped make 'Kokomo' a hit the movie industry suddenly took an interest in The Beach Boys and suddenly every director was asking them to submit songs. By luck rather more than design (truly all these films are wretched, far more so than the songs) most of these were hits at the box office too: 'Make It Big' on 'Beverly Hills Troop' and the title track on 'Lethal Weapon II'. The film directors who couldn't get new Beach Boys then turned to old Beach Boys, with 'I Get Around' appearing on the sweet 1986 children's sci-fi classic 'Flight Of The Navigator', 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' being put to good sarcastic use by Michael Moore in his debut film 'Roger and Me' and - most obscurely - supposed 1986 comedy 'Soul Man' which uses 'California Girls' in part of a plotline about a white-skinned student who longs to be black (if only the band had waited a few years longer they could have had 'God Only Knows' from the 'Boogie Nights' soundtrack or 'Good Vibrations' from 'Vanilla Sky' too). With all these songs scattered on various film soundtracks, Mike proposed one big Beach Boys 'movie' album that gathered them altogether, like a party album only with less overdubs and guitars and more (pop)corn. And then Al said no, but he'd written a song named 'Island Girl' that would fit on an album. Then Brian's lawyers called to say that he wouldn't join the band but did have a song named 'In My Car' he'd send them. And then John Phillips turned up from somewhere near Japan and the Beach Boy admitted defeat and decided this record would be a half-album instead.

Hence this mismash: if only the band had started from scratch or waited to replace those old tracks then there's still a chance 'Still Cruisin' might have worked, in a palatable 1980s hits way at least. What's worse is that the unusual decision to have the three old timeless tracks at the end simply shows up how far the band have fallen. The trio sound as if they've all had an un-credited remix to these ears ('Around' has slightly louder vocals, the double-tracking on Brian's voice sounds tighter on 'Nice' and 'California Girls' places a slightly different emphasis on Mike's twin-vocals), but otherwise sound like 'pure' Beach Boys - the rest sounds like a tribute act trying to do something half-remembered. The very 1980s setting compared to the impressively un-1960s style doesn't help matters much either. The result is perhaps understandable given the original concept and the fact the band weren't talking to each other and that they knew well how quickly the new public goodwill might vanish if they didn't release something quick - and yet it still sounds dumb and out of place, like those compilations that add two new-and-so-bad-they'd-never-have-even-considered-releasing-them-in-their-heyday songs on the end that everyone skips or those 'Now-thats-what-I-call-music-except-for-those-couple-of-dodgy-tracks-in-the-middle-that-just-sound-like-noise-but-had-to-be-on-there-because-these-things-are-compiled-by-chart-success-not-what-the-rest-of-us-call-talent' sets.
So why couldn't the band just get it together and cash in one last big pay cheque? Well events have happened apace since 1985. Dennis is gone and not even the ghostly, mourned, keeping-it-real presence he was on 'The Beach Boys'. Mike has moved on from his transcendental meditation phase and gone back to his former bullyboy self to some extent, with this the period of his infamous fast-fuelled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame attack ('I'd like to see The Beatles get up and do 'Good Vibrations' night after night!'), convinced that with Brian now largely a solo act it falls to him to steer the Beach Boys ship, whether the crew like it or not. Even Al Jardine has tired of playing second fiddle to Mike Love and had a spectacular falling out with the singer (he was even fired from the band for a while for what Mike called a 'severe attitude problem', which basically meant he no longer agreed with everything Love said). Brian, for the first time in his life, couldn't care less about being a Beach Boy - with his first solo album out in shops the year before (and it's strange in retrospect that the goodwill towards the band didn't stretch to stronger sales there) and his imaginary demons on one side and the scarier demon of Dr Landy on the other surviving is a struggle that doesn't leave much for making music: Brian doesn't care anymore (and even when he wasn't well enough to take part on previous Beach Boys records like '20/20' or 'Holland', he clearly still cared). It's left to Carl to sort the whole mess out and he's less than willing, with his own aborted solo career only just in the horizon and the mess of keeping friends, brothers and cousins apart making him ill (this is the start of a slippery slope down to his all-too-early death from lung cancer in 1998, though those close to the band start getting worried about the youngest Wilson here long before the diagnosis). Only Bruce is his normal cheery self as he fills in Al's normal role as the normal dependable number two on this record, but even that Johnstone smile and charm can't get The Beach Boys out of this one. 'Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?' runs one of the old tracks on this album - but though the band are older, they're clearly not yet mature with old simmering tensions blowing over. The shock after reading about the making of this album isn't so much that the band will only make another two more records after this during their next twenty-five years (compared to twenty-seven in their first twenty-five years) but that they made it to their half-century in any functioning state at all.

Overall, then, 'Still Cruisin' is merely a vehicle for a now-suddenly popular institution that can't quite shake off the feeling that it's making do and keeping the engine ticking over while the drivers argue over their next direction to take. There are many reasons not to take this album sensibly: 'Koko-bloody-mo' for one (perhaps the least deserving #1 AAA hit of them all, unless you count 'Starship's big successes as part of the Jefferson Airplane canon and please tell me you don't), while elsewhere the songs are largely recycled (when they're not being repeated), the backing is notoriously 1980s (that's not a compliment!) and Brian, Al and even Carl barely appear. And yet at times things fall into place: 'Somewhere Near Japan', a song about being lost, is ironically the Beach Boys song with the clearest sense of direction since 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Santa Ana Winds' in 1980; 'Make It Big' is an under-rated grower, 'Still Cruisin' is Beach Boys by numbers that remind you how big and important those numbers are and even 'Wipe Out' can be funny if you're very lenient and/or drunk (this is a 25th birthday party, remember, albeit one that's fashionably late by a couple of years). Of course 'Still Cruisin' is ultimately still dreadful and a pale shadow of almost everything that came before it - but like 'Summer In Paradise' fans have had such glee beating up on how bad the band sound compared to how they used to that they've overlooked the occasional moments when The Beach Boys still sound like one of the best bands on the planet and where the surf is never truly up. Even when the band's powerhouse is effectively trapped in an asylum, the rest of the band can't stay in the same room together and the 1980s sounds are in full swing. This band could still have made it big if they'd wanted to, oh so big.

Title track 'Still Cruisin' opens the album with a subtle purr rather than an aggressive pounce as per the recent Beach Boys tradition with 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Getcha Back' and it's a slow burner of a vehicle for the band rather than a car song ready to shut down all-comers. This Mike-Melcher collaboration is much as you'd expect from a Beach Boys car song, but with the added frisson that they're really using the idea of a journey across old familiar ground in an old favourite jallopy as a metaphor for growing older. An intriguing twist on 'Do It Again' but switching the surfboards for the motor, it's interesting that even though the lyrics are unashamedly nostalgic ('Punch in your favourite station, toss in your favourite tape!') the music is actually quite progressive. Mike's half-rap is as bad an idea as you'd expect ('Rocking to the reggae band, lovers walk hand in hand...'), but elsewhere The Beach Boys have actually nailed the early 1990s signature sound and made it sound natural to them: slightly bored cross-threaded harmonies, lashings of jingly-jangly guitar and a drum part that's bigger than anything else in the room. The one track on the album that sounds as if the band are trying to involve everyone (bar Brian), the song gives plenty of room to Bruce's high falsetto, Al's gritty counterpart ('Get yourself in gear!') and Carl's earnest middle eight despite otherwise being as traditional a 'Mike' song as you can get. No, there's nothing that mind-bogglingly inventive here and a bit more excitement and a foot on the throttle pedal would have made a good song even better, but this minor hit single manages to drive down the twin roads of being recognisably Beach Boys and impressively contemporary, which is quite a feat in itself. The song can be heard in 'Lethal Weapon II', not that it really fits there.

The song is eclipsed, though, by 'Somewhere Near Japan', which is a sequel of sorts to Mike's previous oriental love song 'Sumahama'. This track was both inspired by and co-written by old friend John Phillips, who got in touch to relate a story about his then-twenty-one-year-old daughter Mackenzie Phillips (who'd long been a childhood friend of Brian's daughters) who got stranded in another land after a honeymoon spent taking drugs went a bit wrong. Allegedly Mackenzie really did call her dad for help with the words 'I don't know where I am but it's somewhere near Japan' (actually it turned out she was in Guam, closer to America) - an 'SOS' call that somehow got translated into a love song between a girl who wanted 'rescuing' from the boy she calls up. In John's original draft the song went on for multiple minutes and at least fifteen verses (The Beach Boys version runs to four and a chorus) and can be heard on bootlegs for an unreleased 'New Mamas and Papas' album that never got made (with Mackenzie substituting for her mum Michelle and namesake Scott replacing Denny Docherty). When offered to The Beach Boys in the wake of 'Kokomo' Mike re-worked the song and made it more Beach Boys-like, with Bruce adding some touches of his own and working out the production and arrangement. A last 'lifeline' to an old flame before she drowns for good, the song is treated like a great film romance, with a noticeably bigger budget than usual for this period Beach Boys and co-writer Bruce going to town on the production effects. Though the story doesn't make a lot of sense (one minute she's helpless and asking to be rescued - the next she's enjoying the adventure), the song is a lot more likeable than 'Kokomo' with a pretty melody and a sweet chorus that's well handled by Mike and Carl between them. It's not ultra gold classic Beach Boys, but the warmth of the production, the combined forces of the harmonies and the quirky, inventive storytelling makes this a cut above the rest of the album and indeed anything on the next two.

Alas, just as the album seems to be warming up, along comes Al's 'Island Girl', as bland and pointless a slab of reggae as you'll hear on any AAA album, including those by 10cc and Wings. 'She's so pretty, I like her plenty' and 'I'm so happy, I like 'em sassy!' is apparently Jardine's idea of a rhyming chorus, while the patronising tone that the girl only matters because she's 'a beauty' doesn't do him or the band any favours (although at least they're not quite as bad as 'Hey Little Tomboy'). It's kind of a Caribbean 'California Girls', but with one girl standing in as a representative of her whole nation, which is a bit odd when you think about it - I'd hate every woman in the British Isles to be judged by the standards of The Spice Girls. What's odd is that this track - which was pretty much made by Al alone with his sons (who had been longstanding members of the Beach Boys touring band) - features by far the strongest band performance on the album, with Al and Bruce covering the background harmonies between them, Carl having fun rocking out on the counter-vocal and Brian's first of only three vocals on the album catching the ear on the 'Skye Boat Song' style opening. Which seems like a lot of effort to go to on a song that's so bad it sums up in the last verse that 'she says that I'm crazy and also lazy and yet she loves me'. Come back Van Dyke Parks...

Normally Brian would come charging to the rescue on a white horse of imagination and invention by now, but no - instead he comes waddling in on a clown car that rather falls apart. 'In My Car' is something of an oddball, without any of the grace and thoughtfulness of his contributions to his recent 'Brian Wilson' record of the year before or the more traditional Beach Boys feel of his many songs from the past. The last 'car' song in The Beach Boys canon (unless you count the 'Beach Boys Salute Nascar' album of re-recordings as a 'proper' release - and we certainly don't), the lyrics of this one are pretty much just a re-hash of '409' and indeed most Beach Boy car songs after, with Brian's narrator using the size of his motor to impress girls (is it a compensation thing one has to ask?) Even by Beach Boys standards it's a little daft, with one of the greatest writers of his generation spending his last contribution to a Beach Boys album until 2012 singing the chorus 'move sister, groove sister!' over and over. Hopefully that was Dr Landy's contribution, the therapist getting not just co-billing but first billing on the song. On the plus side, though, the chorus ties in nicely with the album's nostalgic mood ('still cruisin' after all these years!' Given that this song was taped after the title track appeared in 'Lethal Weapon II' it's interesting how closely Brian is paying attention to what the rest of the band are up to) and  how come it took a band famous for their car songs 28 years to rhyme 'red Corvette' with 'a night you can't forget'?! The song's real problem is that while the lyrics try to ooze cool, the music is doing completely the opposite: it's jittery, nervous and all over the place as Brian puts on his most comedic part since his star turn as the Grinch on a 1973 Christmas single. For all that, there's something in this track that makes it stand above the worst of this album - a particular touch of Brian magic that means that even though the track is plain stupid, it's a Brian kind of quirky stupid with a nice synth riff that sounds much like the one on 'Rio Grande' from the 'Brian Wilson' album and a whole box full of rhythmical production tricks that sounds more like car crash than car chase. It's clearly the work by a great mind trying to think stupid, even if it's ultimately pretty stupid anyway.

'Kokomo' is the 'big one', the highest selling Beach Boys single in twenty-odd years and the last top seventy-four hit of any kind ('Still Crusin'' peaked at #75) the band will ever have. For the life of me I'm not sure why - and many other Beach Boys aficionados have the same view. No better and arguably a little worse than other 1980s attempts to update The Beach Boys style, this tale of romancing a girl from an Island off the Florida coast is high on the schmaltz factor and is just as offensive as the similar tracks from 1978's 'MIU' album in its mixture of island and Americana slang ('Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama!') Perhaps confusing their continents, Mike and co-writers Terry Melcher, John Phillips and Scott Mackenzie also throw in some French-style accordion in there too along with the steel drums (weirdly it's played by Van Dyke Parks on his first appearance on a Beach Boys recording since 1973 even though 'Kokomo' couldn't be less like a Parks-style song; one hopes that he spent the sessions asking Mike what some of this song's impenetrable lyrics meant in revenge for the singer's remarks over 'Surf's Up' and 'Cabinessence'). What saves this song is the fact that it 'feels' like a Beach Boys song: it's 'California Girls' again with some cheesy-bordering-on-genius rhymes ('We'll put out to sea and perfect our chemistry') and some nice block harmonies with Carl sounding better than he has in a long time on the chorus. Mike, unusually, gives his best lines to his fellow band members to sing but still fits in some cheeky  and very Beach Boys rejoinders in across the song ('Port au Prince, I wanna catch a glimpse!') A high profile appearance in the film 'Cocktail' (where the song makes a little sense this time round) probably didn't hurt its commercial chances either. However prolonged exposure (and this song was everywhere back in 1988) reveals it's many flaws: a nonsensical storyline, a melody that's closer to an irritating commercial than a piece of art by the band who came up with 'Smile', some slightly dodgy 'primitive local' lyrics and a chorus that's repeated more times than the application of sun-tan lotion all add up to a song that soon exhausts your goodwill. It's not a patch on 'Getcha Back' or 'Still Cruisin', the other rather better attempts to update The Beach Boys sound in this period and both Al and Brian are missing from the harmonies. The only Beach Boys song to date nominated for a Grammy award, it lost out to Phil Collins' horrific work for the feature film 'Buster', which rather says it all. Once again, an early Mamas and Papas recording exists on bootleg and sounds much the same (it's just missing the 'Aruba Jamaica' chorus, which is clearly the work of Mike Love) but it hasn't ever been given an official release. You're not missing much...Note: most guide books to The Beach Boys claim that 'Kokomo' is fictional, which must come as a surprise to the inhabitants of the Kokomo island near Islamorada, although knowing Mike's love for Hawaii he might have had a second 'Kokomo' located off those islands in mind too (interestingly the Phillips original puts Kokomo in the Caribbean - there's an 'Island of Mustique' there as mentioned in the lyric but no 'Kokomo'.

Yikes: 'Wipe Out' is aptly named as this is what nearly happened to the band's career with the release of this single. Somewhere along the line The Beach Boys got it into their heads that a collaboration with some young hip dudes would be good for their career - it worked for Run DMC and Aerosmith on the re-working of 'Walk This Way' not long before. Rumour has it the band's management contacted Run DMC about the idea first before discovering that they were both reluctant and costly, so instead they approached the flavour of the day 'The Fat Boys' even though they knew even less about surfing than The Beach Boys themselves (it's also a little like being snubbed by The Supremes and hiring The Spice Girls instead). Having very little to do with The Beach Boys (in fact only two Beach Boys appear - Mike briefly doing some 'bah bah bahs' and a lot of multiple Brians -  whose enthusiasm suggests nobody told him he was merely the straightman to a bunch of overweight comedians) the result is funny only listenable if you're a) an early 90s rap fan b) a keen surfer with a sense of irony or c) one of The Fat Boys' mothers. Having about as much in common with The Surfaris' gritty original instrumental (an obvious choice for those early Beach Boys albums full of instrumentals you'd have thought) as 'Sail On Sailor' does to 'The Sailor's Hornpipe', the basic riff is merely an excuse for some noisy criss-cross shouting and microphone-popping alongside lyrics about needing a holiday and partying until the 'real' Beach Boys come along and show them how it's done. Yeah, I need a holiday too after listening to this, although heard sporadically (once a decade is enough) it is quite funny as pure 1960s and pure late 1980s sounds hit each other head on. This is also the last Beach Boys moment to be dominated by Brian until 'That's Why God Made The Radio' a full twenty-three years later and for that reason is cause for a party (well, more cause than The Fat Boys had to party at any rate). Most Beach Boys fans have since tried to pretend that this single doesn't really exist, which is particularly hard if you're British where this single was only kept from the top of the charts by Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. It also sounds incredibly incongruous in the middle of this album with The Beach Boys barely appearing and everyone except The Fat Boys and their proud mothers would surely agree that a straight version of the song would surely have been better. Think of this as The Beach Boys getting middle-aged spread and a mid-life crisis all in one.

The final 'new' song on the album still finds The Beach Boys dreaming that they can 'Make It Big'. 
Easily the best of the three 'film' songs (this one turned up on 'Troop Beverly Hills'), this Love-Melcher song gives over most of the song to Carl to sing and it's a shade above what he's been getting of late. A song full of praise, warmth and encouragement, Carl tells the listener that anything is possible if they have 'faith in themselves' and that anyone can 'make it big', with the extra warning '...if you really want to'. Of course, this being 1980s Beach Boys, they still manage to mess up and the drum sound drowns out almost everything here, while the verses get shorter and shorter to the point where each chorus seems to arrive before you've even started to notice that it's left. Mike's slightly creepy middle eight is alarming (if we, the listener, agree to be his beauty queen' then he'll get us a deal in Hollywood 'and be best buddys with Johnny B Goode' - will you or I break it to him that Johnny is a fictional character?), but every other word in this lyric rings true and this sort of emotional aural hug is exactly what The Beach Boys should have been doing with their talents all these years instead of boasting about cars and island paradises. The fact that Brian and even Bruce seem to be awol again also prevents this from being as true Beach Boys as it ought to be, but Carl's sturdy leave and Mike's nearly-sturdy counterpart makes up for that - and almost the very 1980s sax solo as well. This track would never make it 'big' against the real true classics of The Beach Boys canon, but considering that we've set our sights low enough to have 'Kokomo' on the horizon this is actually a pretty good half-end to the album.

'I Get Around' comes around next, followed by 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' and 'California Girls' (at least the oldies are together on this album!) Why? God only knows (Maybe The Beach Boys' accountants do too) but it seems to have a little something to do with their recent presence in film soundtracks - a concept that was null and void as soon as the second song on the album. That rather un-levels the album as a whole and makes it hard to evaluate given that we've effectively got a mini-LP here (or a double EP if you'd rather) as opposed to a full long-playing record. With only seven 'new' songs to offer us (and four of those were 'oldies' if you were a keen Beach Boys singles collector at the time - and someone had to be with The Beach Boys scoring an American #1 and a British #2 hit in 1987) they all had to be really good for 'Still Cruisin' to ride the crest of the current nostalgia wave. Instead maybe two recordings here  aren't bad, with another couple up to listenable level - and everything else is close to being a disaster. On the one hand, statistically that's stronger than any record since 'LA Light' in 1979  and a lot better than the next two - and yet paying over the odds for an album that runs ten minutes shorter than normal and even then contains three straight repeats seems like The Beach Boys are running on empty, never mind still cruising. On the one hand this is a last hurrah with all our old friends (except Dennis of course) present and correct, with some decent material and Bruce Johnston's usually excellent production values that was good enough to get The Beach Boys some deserved hit status at last. On the other this is a half-baked, thrown-together collection of disparate tracks released to hit the lowest common denominator and recorded by a band who can't even bear to be in the same studio space with each other anymore. Some twenty-fifth party that turned out to be - and yet the fact that The Beach Boys lasted that age at all with some of their reputation intact and maybe even enhanced by this album is also reason to celebrate. The trick is to accept that the band have long ago lost the ability to surprise and please and assume you're going to hate most of this album - and that way you might be surprised by just how much of this cash-in money-making fodder actually sticks in the ears and brain-cells. 

Come on and peruse our Beach Boys reviews - come on, you know you got nothing to lose...

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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