Monday 17 November 2014

The Beach Boys "Summer In Paradise" (1992)

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The Beach Boys "Summer In Paradise" (1992)

Hot Fun In The Summertime/Surfin'/Summer Of Love/Island Fever/Still Surfin'/Slow Summer Dancing (One Summer Night)//Strange Things Happen/Remember 'Walking In The Sand'?/Lahina Aloha/Under The Boardwalk/Summer In Paradise/Forever

This isn't a summer in paradise - this is a winter of discontent. Although released surprisingly quickly on the heels of the last record by Beach Boys standards (three years), the band have just been through one of the most difficult periods of their lengthy career and a lot has changed since 'Still Cruisin'. Some 23 years after his first solo single, Brian has finally gone solo properly, sort of, with the 'help' of Dr Landy which means that 'Summer In Paradise' is the one and only Beach Boys record he makes no appearance on whatsoever.  Al Jardine has finally fallen out big-time with his old writing partner Mike Love and for a time was 'suspended' from the making of this album for having a 'severe attitude problem' (which in truth meant he simply didn't agree with everything Mike said anymore). In many ways this 30th anniversary record is just like their 15th ('15 Big Ones') - it tries hard to be a party but no one is in the party mood. Against all the odds and the hope that it might have been an elaborate practical joke and publicity stunt fully in keeping with his life history, Dennis Wilson continued to be dead. That leaves Mike, Carl and Bruce to carry the bulk of an album that for the first time in seven years tried to deliver a full-length Beach Boys record. As this record puts it, though, this is a 'Love thing' - still confident from the success of 'Kokomo' and without any real challenges to his crown (Carl is basically a hired hand here for the money and doesn't contribute any songs, 'cast' whenever Mike needs another voice; Al barely appears even after being re-hired), this is the first time since 'MIU' in 1978 that The Beach Boys have gone back so completely to Mike's vision as a commercial goodtime summer band without any ambition beyond new pop songs and re-working of old standards.

The result is...odd. Unlike some Beach Boys who actively hate this album I haven't had the urge to bin it and actually prefer it to other aborted attempts to make The Beach Boys commercial giants once again (it's less patronising than 'MIU' and less misguided than '15 Big Ones'). However, for all of the references to surfing (the most of any Beach Boys record since 'Summer Days and Summer Nights', a record referred to endlessly as if Mike considers this the long-delayed follow-up to that 1965 LP) and the rejuvenation of first single 'Surfin' with a new modern sound, this actually sounds less like The Beach Boys than normal. There's very few block harmonies across this record and those that are sound distinctly strange - most likely by virtue of the fact that only three Beach Boys sing on most of the album and are drowned out by session singers in the deeply misguided hope that no one will notice (I also suspect that complaints at the time were right and that these vocals have all been electronically treated - they share the same 'feathery' feel of many other 1990s recording and at times are in danger of turning The Beach Boys into The Back Street Beach Boys. Years later it was revealed that 'Summer In Paradise' had been one of the first albums recorded using the devil's technology 'pro tools', the scourge of many a hopeless-but-pretty boy and girl band to come). That's a real waste of Carl's talents especially, on the last full-length album project he'll ever take part in some six years before his death from lung cancer. Hearing the band desecrate (sorry cover) so many classics they didn't write is off-putting too: not since 'Summertime Blues' have The Beach Boys destroyed (sorry re-recorded) a song like 'Under The Boardwalk'. While people complained that Brian Wilson had moved too far away from the band sound on his first record, what with his massive blocks of overdubbed harmonies and twinkly keyboards, at least 'Brian Wilson' sounds like a Beach Boys album -albeit one a little further down a particular musical road. 'Summer In Paradise' is worse though because it was designed from the first as a bona fide nostalgia fest and so needs to feel more like The Beach Boys than ever. In one way you can understand why this was the single biggest flop in Beach Boys history, barely making it into the thousands of copies sold: The Beach Boys finally sound like the anachronism they've been (relatively) successfully holding at bay for so long, a band well out of their time.

That's generally the point where most reviewers leave this unhappy album and dismiss it out of hand. However if you're patient enough to get used to the new sound, there are elements of this 'new' Beach Boys that work rather well. While no songs are outright classics, Mike and Terry Melcher make a formidable commercial songwriting partnership, with the former's lyrics and latter's music completely in tune with one another. 'Strange Things Happen' is easily the best song the  pair wrote together, a charming pop song that fits in all sorts of references to favourite Love themes of meditation, surfing and, well, love. 'Still Surfin' might well be the second, a sweet 'Do It Again' for the 1990s which is the one track on this record that does sound like proper Beach Boys (if you shut your eyes and squint. A lot). 'Lahina Aloha', meanwhile, finally bucks the Beach Boys trend of patronising songs about Hawaii by being rather good. Why these songs failed where 'Kokomo' succeeded is a mystery.Talking of which, Love is impressively keen not to simply go back over past successes - I was expecting a whole album of 'Kokomo' taking place in different countries when I first bought this album, but in fact it's all very much set in California. The tributes to old friends and fallen comrades, while clearly far removed from the fun and energy of the originals, have their hearts in the right places too: 'Surfin' revisited is a fun attempt to show off a 'then and now' picture and Bruce in particular seems to be having great fun taking part in a re-creation of a historic moment he wasn't a part of the first time; similarly while road manager John Stamos is no Dennis Wilson his tribute to his old friend on a re-recording of the drummer's 'Forever' was a neat place to end the band's discography for the next 20 years until the next record. Given the circumstances (no Brian, no Dennis, very little Al and not as much Carl as usual) 'Summer In Paradise' is about as good an album as it could ever hope to be.

That doesn't, of course, excuse the moments the album get laughably wrong. The band sensibly decide that 'Walking In The Sand' is too obvious a song for them to cover directly, but instead of abandoning it altogether they decide to re-arrange it with a tinny nasal Love vocal squeaking 'remember' before every chorus and a booming drum pattern very out of keeping. Equally Love just can't leave The Drifters' 'Under The Boardwalk alone, taking a co-credit for a few extra lines that badly detract from the song and slopping lots of artificial saxophones and synth drums over everything. I'm amazed Dennis didn't rise up from the grave and slap them all to be honest (perhaps he did?!) Even Sly and the Family Stone aren't safe, with their single 'Hot Fun In The Summertime' turned into a Beach Boys song more out of force than love, a song about release and escape from life's problems turned into an upbeat catchy song it should never have been. Some of the originals the ropiest yet too: Bruce Johnston has had seven years to write a song since his last one for the band back in 1985 and the fact that the best he can do is the agonising 'Slow Summer Dancing' is a testament to how many creative juices he seemed to lose when he rejoined the band in 1979, ending a promising solo career (albeit one also full of unsuitable re-recordings of classics like this album is). Love and Melcher aren't immune either: 'Summer Of Love' is full of awful puns on Mike's name, again ('let me take you on  a 'Love' vacation!), while the album's title track should be a moving combination of references to the band's past with a bit of 1990s ecological awareness thrown in too; instead it's a limp song with some truly cringeworthy lyrics, with references to Barbara Ann and Help Me Rhonda shoe-horned into a song not built to hold them. You can see why so many reviewers had a field day with this album: pointing out the mistakes is like shooting fish in a barrel (or - worse than that - the giant whale from the front cover sticking out of a barrel).

But 'Summer In Paradise' isn't an entirely bad album - parts of it are made with love and care and at least touch on why The Beach Boys are so special. In many ways it's the album they perhaps should have made during their aborted 'comebacks' in the second half of the 1970s before Brian was put fully in charge of the band again at a time when he wasn't fully in charge of himself. Without the elder Wilson's idiosyncrasies, 'Summer In Paradise' often seems like a waste but Love finally goes back to the job he started back in 1971 of turning the Beach Boys into an ecologically aware band. While you could argue all the warnings on this record came 'too late' and merely followed lots of other people, it's always better late than never on this site and Love's concern for the welfare of the Californian coast he loves so much is touching. This theme is explored brilliantly in the album's gorgeous glossy cover of whales and fish swimming in a glorious crystal clear Californian sea (which shows more of a creative touch than any of the album, it has to be said). The perfect advert for why The Beach Boys and their songs about California matter to the rest of us (if they shot this cover about my home town it would be muddy, black and feature several floating shopping trolleys), it's the band's most striking sleeve in ever such a long time ('Keepin' The Summer Alive'?!)

Despite keeping the 'Boys' part of the title, this is clearly an older band this time around. Many of these album's plot-lines either happen as memories or occurred to somebody else entirely. 'Summer In Paradise' itself reads like an autobiography, a slowing author looking back on a busy past with a slight look of shock that these things all happened to him so long ago. Both 'Slow Summer Dancing' and 'Remember Walking In The Sand' happen in the past tense, with the two love songs now sounding like fading memories - the sort you tell your grandkids when you're feeling sufficiently soppy. 'Summer Of Love' is the only song that sounds like a vaguely 'youthful' song - and sounds downright wrong to be honest ('Don't worry about tossing your clothes and hitting the water' leers a now 51-year-old Love to an obviously younger girl; who said Dennis' spirit wasn't hanging around?!) Notably, though, the rest of these songs aren't about things that happen to 'our narrators' but to other people. It's as if The Beach Boys are now sitting inside the beach huts, past the respectable age of surfing, taking note of what everyone around them is up to instead. You can just imagine Mike and Terry meeting up to have lunch on the beach and looking around for likely candidates: 'Still Surfin' features an ex-law degree student, shedding his newly found responsibilities to reconvene with the Californian surfing scene he's missed so badly; 'Lahina Aloha' is a story-song that comes closest to 'Kokomo', interestingly with Carl playing the part of the central action, interrupting Mike's narrator. It used to be that you couldn't keep The Beach Boys away from the action, but now they're commentators, critics, watchers of people who do the sort of things they used to do. 'If that lifestyles over its oh so sad' sings Mike on the title track - I think he's referring to America's fading beaches and injured coastlines, but in context it sounds like he's waving goodbye to his own rock-star past.

Perhaps that explains why 'Summer In Paradise' feels like such a removed experience. When you play most Beach Boys records - 'Today' 'Sunflower' 'Love You', even 'Still Cruisin' to some extent - you get instantly hit by a wave of emotion that comes at you like waves. 'Summer In Paradise', by comparison, sounds like the tide is out. I'm not quite sure why that should be - Mike comes up with a few emotional lyrics across this record and quite a few touch on old Beach Boys stories and references, which should be enough. However a combination of the treated harmonies, the similarity of the songs, the lower number of lead vocalists (Al gets just the one song, Bruce doesn't even get that handing over 'Slow Summer Dancing' to Carl to sing) and the booming contemporary production makes 'Summer In Paradise' a curiously lifeless affair. My theory as to why this album sold so badly, after ticking so many of the boxes a hit album needs (An anniversary to hang it on in the press! A cool cover! Crowd-pleasing references to old songs! Re-recordings of old songs! No controversy whatsoever!) is that people heard a few bars of the artificial drumming and got put off. To hear the difference just compared the opening cover of 'Hot Fun In The Summertime' with Sly and the Family Stone's original - one is fully alive, one's being kept alive only on an artificial machine. Hopefully one day someone will take the trouble to remix this album, perhaps with a 'proper' drummer rather than a computer, and I'm convinced this album would have a much greater place of affection in fans' hearts; no 'Smile' certainly but at least an improvement on the albums immediately before and after (by contrast 'That's Why God Made The Radio' features a great in-the-studio performance of some shockingly poor Brian Wilson songs not good enough to sell as a solo album).

Overall, then, is this 'summer in paradise?' Hardly - it's more the sound of a wet and rainy Tuesday when the summer months are about to end and everyone has exams/going back to school/work problems/long winter nights to look forward to. By rights this album should be called 'Autumn in Scunthorpe' - it's not quite bad enough to be 'Winter in Hell', but it's decidedly not a location or a period you want to spend too much time in. There are of course many reasons why this should be so, chiefly the loss of Brian and Dennis and the way that Carl has been quietened to the point where the band's power-house of the previous twenty years is now solely a hired singer, not to mention that production style and those godawful cover songs. But if you've come to this album like I have, after so many years of reading reviews knocking it and calling it the most worthless album since Milli Vanilli tried to sing, then you might well be pleasantly surprised. Mike Love isn't a creative force to be reckoned with the way that the Wilson brothers were and are (which has been a major point of contention between the cousins down the years). But at his best he has a real knack for writing punchy lyrics that say a lot in a short space and co-writer Terry Melcher is his best and most suitable collaborator since Brian himself. This record isn't even Mike's best album taken as a whole, but it does feature some good songs and while this is really just a solo album with some guest stars the support of Carl, Bruce and Al is still more welcome than not. Our advice: find it cheap and lower your expectations, a lot. But buy it all the same: after all it's still The Beach Boys and still beats practically every other album that year even with the band sound diluted.

The record starts with the deceptively fun tones of 'Hot Fun In The Summertime'. In Sly and the Family Stone's hands this composition manages to be both a paean to carefree summer days and a slightly sleazy suggestive song about sex, drugs and rock and roll. This being the Mike Love-era Beach Boys this song is short on the first two and only makes the weakest of stabs at the last. To be fair the band do a great job at turning this unlikely choice of material into a Beach Boys song thanks to the best block harmonies on the album, with Al re-instated back as part of the crowd and Bruce turned way up loud, with better-than-average leads from Mike and Carl (you even accept Carl's cameo singing 'we can bump bump bump if we want to' without it ringing too many alarm bells). Mike's 'comedy bass' vocal is a delight too, turning the clock back about thirty years, while Carl fits in a brief but welcome guitar solo (we do mean brief - six notes was all I counted). However already there's a feeling of 'lift music' about this track: there's a very 1980s squealing sax part that practically comes with its own mullet, some very artificial booming drumming and a backing track built largely around one chord - charming for the band when they were just starting out in 1962 but rather bland for a band who ought to know better after 30 big ones in the music business. The result 'sounds' better than most of this record and most of the last one, though, mainly thanks to the rare united Beach Boys front on this track - it's only when you read the lyric sheet (or find one online at least as the band didn't provide one) that you begin to ask 'is this really a Beach Boys song?!'

The re-make of 'Surfin' is everything the original isn't: noisy thrashing guitars, heavy-handed drumming and sounding like the kind of old wannabe surfers Beach Boys fans used to laugh at. That's kind of the point though, the band deliberately trying to make 'Surfin' as it would sound if they were doing it today (well, 1992) rather than making the original from scratch. you'd never trade it for the original 'Surfin' and the song about a thrilling teenage craze has never sounded less adult than when sung by the band as adults with teenagers of their own. However there's a clever arrangement, heavy on a kind of grunge guitar sound (think Nirvana with a surfing lyric and smiling - no hang on, even my imagination won't stretch that far) and there's the welcome chance to hear Carl singing some of the original lines instead of Mike for a change - they sound as great as you'd expect from the member who was still the band's best vocalist even this near to the end. A lot of fun if taken in the right spirit. This song's gratuitous reference to a past Beach Boys classic: well all of it, actually.
So far so good - well better than any Beach Boys album since 1981 anyway. But in comes 'Summer Of Love' and suddenly all your worst fears about this album are coming true. Mike Love is at is creepiest here, chatting up an unknown female ('You'll always be my summer season's...main attraction' - it's that pause that gives the narrator's real intent anyway) and promising that his time has come - it's a 'Summer Of Love' in more ways than one. Mike kindly says that 'doing with you would be...really cool', adds that he won't mind if the girl he's just met decides to take her clothes off and dive in the 'water', honest before adding that it's alright because he's looking for love. On this evidence perhaps it's the police who should have been looking for Love instead - this is even more trite and 'wrong' than what Mike was writing at an age when he didn't know any better. The trite chorus 'sum sum summer of love' has already been trotted out by The Beach Boys so many times and always better than here, while the trite tag line 'Hey now - it's a love thing!' is all Brian Wilson needs to point out when reporters ask him for the 45th time that week why he doesn't write with his cousin anymore. On reflection this song is right up there with 'Tomboy' as the single most misguided song in the band's back catalogue. So why on earth did this song make it through the track listing in favour of new songs by Carl and Al? Don't ask - it's a Love thing, with most of the band sensibly sticking this one out apart from a deeply embarrassed sounding Carl. This song's gratuitous old Beach Boy Reference: 'Summer Days and Summer Nights'.

'Island Fever' isn't much better, a dippy happy-go-lucky song about - guess what - falling in love with Hawaii and not wanting to leave. Even The Beach Boys of 1962 would have thrown this one for being too corny and poor Al happens to choose this song to make his comeback with the band, having to put on an embarrassed smile and singalong, just like the old days (and no doubt ready to re-activate that 'attitude problem' any second). The shame is that while the chorus, repeated every ten seconds (or so it seems) is truly bad the verses are much more interesting, especially the nursery rhyme style melody that's really rather catchy. In fact co-writer and producer Terry Melcher is the only person to come out of this song with any credit - the production on this track is excellent with lots of percussion, tropical sound effects and what sounds like some cocoanuts being tapped (the only time on this record that 'real' drums are used instead of a drum machine). The result, then, is exactly what you'd expect from a Melcher-Love song designed to be as commercial - and therefore empty - as they can make it, but at least compared to the last track this sounds like a road suitable for The Beach Boys to travel on. This song's gratuitous reference to an old Beach Boys classic: lyrically it's 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?', while the 'ba ba ba ba-duh' vocals are lifted wholesale from Love and Melcher's earlier song 'Getcha Back'.

'Still Surfin' is much better - no 'God Only Knows' or anything but the sort of song that Love and Melcher should have been writing. Love is a good people watcher (when the other people aren't his cousins anyway) and is at his best conveying unfulfilled longing or desires in other people. This song could be about any of the band's fans 30 years past getting hooked on the surfing craze in the 1960s: the un-named so loved the Californian lifestyle he came back, after a few years out being sensible and getting a law degree he hardly uses. He's currently dating a 'senorita' well known to the scene (Love's narrator admits he went out with her too once - he really is trying to take up Dennis' mantle as the romeo of the group on this album isn't he?!) and both looks and feels younger when the pair hit the water, re-living their youth. A lot of the band's fan-base can probably relate (not me obviously - I have enough trouble not falling over on dry land never mind on a surfboard) and it's to Love's credit that he keeps the lyric simple and doesn't overdo any of it - we know the surfer could have a better life, but he's going to be married and still enjoying a sport he loves, so that's not so bad is it? Melcher's melody is catchy too without being as shoved down your throat as a lot of these other songs and there's a nice lot of open space for some Beach Boysy 'oohs' too, even if sadly they don't sing en masse. One of the album's better tracks. Oh and this song's gratuitous lift from an old song: the 'duh duhs' are taken from 'I Know There's An Answer' while Carl's wordless vocal line wanders very close to 'Getcha Back' again.

Bruce only gets one moment to shine and for once doesn't really take it. 'Slow Summer Dancing (One Summer Night)' tries to describe a romantic night for two in typical Bruce language but this attempt to re-capture the feel of 'Disney Girls' lacks the charm of the olden days and you end up wanting the cautious pair to hurry up and get on with it instead of wasting our time as well as theirs. Sweeping her off her feet this isn't: 'I'm gonna treat her...really nice' blushes Bruce before waiting for the moon to come out. Seriously, summer will be over by the time you actually arrange to pick her up!  It doesn't help that this cosy night for two is interrupted by what must be one of the most out-of-place drum tracks in the history of the AA - a repetitive pounding thrash treated with echo which appears to be here simply to spice things up a bit. Even coating it in chillis and kentucky fried chicken special coating couldn't spice this song up: usually I stick up for Bruce's material, which is often more interesting than his colleague's, but this track is everything his detractors have always complained about: sickly sentimental, poorly thought out and woefully boring. Even the vocals - the one thing you can always count on in times of trouble on Beach Boys records - are a struggle; Bruce's double-tracked vocal is weak (and very artificial sounding); Al's counter-lead on the choruses is better but rather OTT by comparison; even Carl and Mike's harmonies sound more awkward than usual. Not since 'Brian Is Back' has a Beach Boys song of three minutes seemed like so much purgatory. No gratuitous Beach Boys references this time, which is a shame because it might have livened this song up a bit.

'Strange Things Happen' is better, with another chat up line but this one dealt with properly, gentlemanly and with the promise that a love is meant to be because 'every time I touch my baby strange things happen'. The band's most cosmically minding since 'Funky Pretty', the song starts with the arresting opening 'she believes in God and karma too', but unusually steers well clear.  I can't tell if all the stuff about star-signs is just a corny chat-up line or intended.  'I've got Scorpio rising' Mike proudly tells us, which explains a lot about his need for 'revenge' on certain bandmates (such as getting Al Jardine to sing the bit in this song even Carl would sound odd doing), which along with his sun sign in Pisces make him one very watery personality. Forget the lyrics if you need to though: this is another of Terry Melcher's finest moments with the band, with a powerful hook and more importantly a reason for it being there (the pop power chorus takes place every time the lovers touch). Mike and Carl are on great form, Al does his best with a cameo vocal best described as trite and there's a stunning extended guitar solo that lifts the whole song up into another level (sadly it doesn't sound as if it's played by Carl - according to the sleevenotes it's most likely another appearance by AAA favourite and regular Crosby-Nash guitarist Danny Kortchmar; it's terrific though whoever plays it, full of the attack and power the band have been lacking for a while now). Even the drumming is less annoying than usual making for the single best moment on the album. Strange things happen indeed. The only gratuitous Beach Boys reference here is to that old stalwart transcendental meditation, but even this is in brief unlike the days of old.

Alas 'Remember Walking In The Sand' is excruciating. The original by The Shangri-Las (the motorbiking 1950s girl band who sang the much superior 'Leader Of The Pack') isn't exactly the world's greatest song - the band may have been reminded of it by the fact that 'One Summer Night' is exactly that kind of a song (without lifting anything specific). However at least it has a certain charm - The Beach Boys version lacks even this. The band speed the song up, attack it with drums and seagull cries and add an irritating 'remember *boom* walking in the sand' chorus that's repeated more times than the title of 'Fun Fun Fun' is in that song. Mike Love sounds like a cyberman from Dr Who (and a modern one, not one of the proper old ones from the 1960s), the saxophonist sounds like an auditionee for the most 1980s sound on a record award and only Carl comes through with his indignity intact (even then its a close thing). A definite mistake. This song's gratuitous old Beach Boys reference (yes it's a cover song but Love added a few lines that offer nothing extra including this one): 'She's not the little girl I once knew'. Well, at least they picked an obscure one this time!
'Lahina Aloha' is a final greeting from the Beach Boys' favourite alternate home outside California, Hawaii. It makes perfect sense that Love's era of the band should return there one last time and unlike the Mekelekikimaka mess this one sounds like a 'proper' tribute. Lyrically this is 'Somewhere Near Japan' revisited, with two strangers meeting but 'passing like ships in the night' only to reflect on what could have been 'when the full moon shines'. At least Love is taking his better recent songs as a template this time and the song's similar trick of using Mike on the travelogue verses and Carl on the more personal choruses works rather well (even if Carl's vocal sounds uncharacteristically odd - presumably electronically treated although he sounds a little drunk). A brief moment of block Beach Boys harmonies make this the other un-missable track on the album, especially the sudden push on the words 'sail away'. Clearly this song isn't 'God Only Knows' either and the pair of writers have probably forgotten all about it in the intervening years, but it's a superior love song that uses all of The Beach Boys' strengths.

The misguided cover of 'Under The Boardwalk', though, uses precisely none of them. The Drifters' song is surely too well known for the band to wring anything extra from and doesn't even have the sea or summer references that (just about) allowed the band to get away with 'Hot Fun In The Summertime'. This isn't a song built for the Beach Boys style and neither Mike nor Carl sound all that comfortable here, while the idea of turning this song into a duet does nobody any favours. A Beach Boysy wordless 'ooh' backing tries hard, but really this needs someone with the creative genius of a Brian Wilson to bash into shape; this version is too slow, too artificial and too dull. Somewhere up there Dennis is roaring his socks off at the drumming too:  while his own playing was sometimes unstable, it was always had heart; this badly programmed and unsuitably noisy drum track lacks both. That saxophonist's back too: honestly who has ever listened to a Beach Boys album and thought 'gee this would be perfect if only we could get some saxophonist in her squawking'?!)

The title track of 'Summer In Paradise' mixes the two album styles heard throughout the album: the great and the ghastly. On the plus side there's a nicely catchy chorus, some nice Beach Boysy harmonies (though again not enough) and a Mike Love lyric that's clearly close to his heart that finally returns The Beach Boys to the frontline of ecological protestors for the first time since 1971. Mike warns us that 'no one is safe...can't let it go like that', decrying the 'greed' of a world where so many are suffering and adding cosmically that 'paradise is a state of mind' - impressively aggressive lyrics for an environmentally messages song but alas the music makes this sound like a summer barbeque. Love even makes an early reference to 'recycling ('Surfers recycling' in fact, a rather pleasing image that) and there's a whole host of characters from old Beach Boys to join the party. Had this been the very end of the band's career as feared (and as it turned out to be for some 20 years) it would have been a fine way to go, reflecting on how 'if our lifestyle is over it sure is sad - got to get back to living without a care' after  so many years of 'fun fun fun as America's band'. Alas on the negative side nobody sounds sincere, Love's vocal isn't one of his best, the words are often trite and that bleeding saxophonist and drummer are back again to spoil what could have been a pretty ballad with at least one too many noisy distractions. This song's gratuitous references to old Beach Boys songs: 'Our masterplan was having fun fun fun' 'We came out rocking with Rhonda and Barbara Ann' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' (again) and a reference to the 'natural law' of 'The TM Song'.

The album's coda, though, is either a nice touch or proof of how far the band have fallen depending how you feel. With no Dennis around to join the party the Beach Boys decide to give him the last word, re-recording the gorgeous 'Forever' from 'Sunflower'. A good choice in principle, the band effectively singing back to Dennis that he'll never be forgotten ('Now I've gone away...but not forever') and roadie John Stamos is just about enough like Dennis to get away with singing his song (although it might have been better still had Carl sang it given his cameo near the end of the song, or indeed Bruce who gets only his second vocal on this album right at the very end). Perhaps sensibly, nobody tries to recreate Brian's gorgeous falsetto lead from the original. The problem is what the band have chosen to do with it: revising 'Surfin' as a modern day pop song was one thing (a 'before' and 'after' shot and so on of the band's early years, with Mike one of the two writers around to give his encouragement) but Dennis would have hated what they did to his song: tinny thumping drumming, sickly keyboards, heavy metal style guitar solos, false vocals - only Stamos, Bruce and Carl seem to have any affection or understanding of this song at all, including the session men. The result is a nice idea but a wasted opportunity that really should have been better handled. However on the plus side a) this song did do its job to some extent: 'Forever' was a relatively obscure song before this version came out and even though not many fans bought this album enough talked about the brilliance of the original to send people back to their copies of 'Sunflower' and fall in love with Dennis all over again and b) it's a more sincere tribute to a fallen comrade than 'Brian Is Back' (although what isn't?!)

Overall, then, 'Summer In Paradise' isn't exactly what it says on the tin: in some respects this is the worst Beach Boys LP of the lot what with a half-album filled with the band's rummest collection of songs, some appalling cover versions, an overall lack of full band harmonies and some bloody awful drumming. Given this album's low respect with fans and most people's low opinions of any album where Mike Love takes the lead you might expect that to be that. But don't throw the surfer out with the bathwater: this album is always trying and while a good half of it tries your patience the other half beats all odds to become a rather good carefree pop album. Hearing songs like 'Lahina Aloha' 'Strange Things Happen' and 'Still Surfin' makes you think that maybe Mike was right all those years about wanting to stick to a tried and tested formula and keep the band as pure pop: these songs sound 'right' for The Beach Boys and suit them better than any material they've been recorded since at least 1981. However the other half is deeply unsuitable, proof that The Beach Boys should never ever set their sights this low, drowning even in comparatively easy 'shallow' waters on songs that even nothing groups like Take That can do in their sleep. Somehow three great songs, some lovely vocals, a last chance to hear Carl and a brilliant album cover isn't enough to rescue the album from the jaws of defeat and, wearily, I have to agree with most Beach Boys fans: this album really isn't much cop and isn't worthy of their name. But ignore those who tell you that there are no redeeming features of this album - parts of 'Summer In Paradise' aren't just functional but genuinely lovely, equal to anything the band did across the 1980s with Brian still in the band. Think of it as a superior Mike Love solo album with some big name guest stars rather than a proper bona fide Beach Boys record and perhaps you too will be just that bit fonder of this record (I'd still heartily recommend you skip 'Summer Of Love' and 'Slow Summer Dancing' though!)

Other Beach Boys album reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:

'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

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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