THE BEACH BOYS: KEEPIN' THE SUMMER ALIVE (1980)
1) Keepin' The Summer Alive; 2) Oh Darlin'; 3) Some Of Your Love; 4) Livin' With A Heartache; 5) School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell); 6) Goin' On; 7) Sunshine; 8) When Girls Get Together; 9) Santa Ana Winds; 10) Endless Harmony.
This is where it ends, and salvation is no longer even a remote option. The late 1970s saw the band wobbling between the crass, the silly, the occasional flash of experimentation or creativity, and the very sporadic outburst of genius. In other words, the band was down on its luck, but still somewhat alive and struggling; it was, at the very least, curious to watch that struggle.
With the new decade on the horizon, Mike Love was all set to clench his teeth, tighten his grip, and achieve sanity and stability. A noble goal, but at what cost? The much-discussed image on the front sleeve gives us the answer. They may be «keepin' the summer alive», yes – but a completely fake, artificial summer at that, kept on technological life support. As corny as their comeback was announced on 15 Big Ones, it is to Keepin' The Summer Alive that we ought to award the title of «First Ever Genuinely Awful Beach Boys Album». And by «genuinely awful», I mean exactly what I say — I'd rather have an album on which every second song was a variation on 'Bull Session With Big Daddy' than this one.
However, it is not the worst produced Beach Boys album, nor is it the least melodic. Its awfulness lies in its «aura». The motto is simple: «Whatever we are in real life, let us be infectiously happy and merry in the studio», a fairly strange attitude for a band in a state of complete moral wreck, twice as strange considering that «infectiously happy and merry» was certainly not even the prevailing mainstream musical vibe in 1980, not even in California, and thrice as strange considering that the market for surf pop was even smaller in 1980 than it had been in 1976.
As a result, Keepin' The Summer Alive sounds... well, imagine yourself having to do a stand-up comedy routine before a non-English speaking audience the next day after one of your parents' death, and you might get the general idea. Already the title track combines a grossly exaggerated «barroom growl» delivery from Carl, electronically processed backing vocals that robotically chant the melody of 'Louie Louie' (??!!), and a dead-sounding keyboard backup, supposed to bring stuff «up to date» (visions of frizzed-hair leotard-clad girl dancers included). It hardly gets worse from there — but it very, very rarely gets better.
Most of the songs are catchy: that one aspect, at least, Mike is always committed to wrangling from Brian, Carl, or whoever else is involved in the writing. You will remember how to sing along with "some, some, some of your love" or "don't leave me alone, living with a heartache" (for a brief period of time, at least). But this catchiness does not match any of its surroundings — neither the arrangements, nor the age and mental state of the band members, nor the very times to which they try to stick it. Where some of these melodies may have qualified for passable pleasant filler, had they been written and transferred to vinyl circa 1962-63, they sound utterly dumb and kitschy in 1980. And this applies both to the worst offenders (title track; the hideously tropical 'Sunshine'; the clumsy vaudeville sentimentality of 'When Girls Get Together') and songs that were most likely quite innocent and positively oriented upon writing, but were still engulfed and destroyed by the same vibe (e. g. Carl's ballad 'Oh Darlin', not only muffled by pedestrian production and arrangement values, but also by being stuck in between 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Some Of Your Love').
Brian's own fetish for covering oldies, still ongoing from 1976, was generally suppressed by the rest of the band, but, as a compromise, they still include a cover of Chuck Berry's 'Schooldays', which only goes to show that compromises were never good for this band; the result seems just as sanitized as everything else on here.
In short, you know things are going really, really bad when the best track on the album is a long-time reject that dates all the way back to 1972, and was written by Bruce Johnston, of all people; now that he is in full technical control of the band as its producer, it is only natural that the track he never got around to donate to the band eight years earlier (having been fired by Jack Rieley) finally makes a triumphant return. (Subsequently, it is the only track on the album to feature backing vocals from Dennis — who reportedly hated the sessions so much that he walked out after just a couple of them, and I fully empathize). 'Endless Harmony' is an attempt on Johnston's part to emulate the «deep» sonic landscapes of Brian, and, compared with the likes of 'Our Prayer' or 'Surf's Up', it is a very cheap facsimile; but compared with the average crap that constitutes the bulk of Summer, it is an obvious highlight — at least it gives us a tasty bit of collective band harmonies circa 1972, reminding the forgetful that it didn't always used to be like this.
At this particular point, it is reasonable for the non-historian to cut off access to everything that bears the «Beach Boys» tag on it (except for archive releases): 1980 sealed the band's doom, even if they still had a few decent years left as a respectable touring act (mainly due to Carl's active presence and Brian's spirit on the stage serving as a mascot, even if the man himself hardly contributed at all to the stage show). With the endless harmony warped into the state of an endless thumbs down, one might as well just assume the harmonies on 'Endless Harmony' to represent a swan song coda — and move on to Brian's solo career instead. But the reviewer's honest duty is to back up nasty generalizations with album-specific bawdry, so on we go.