THE BEACH BOYS: STILL CRUISIN' (1989)
1) Still Cruisin'; 2) Somewhere Near Japan; 3) Island Girl; 4) In My Car; 5) Kokomo; 6) Wipe Out; 7) Make It Big; 8) I Get Around; 9) Wouldn't It Be Nice; 10) California Girls.
This and the next album were the only ones not to be re-released on CD during the recent major Beach Boy reissue campaign — which is quite telling, all by itself; even Mike Love, deep down in his soul, must be embarrassed about these records, provided he is an organic human being and not a side effect of the evolution process. Still, there they are — no matter how much I'd like to get in my car and wipe out this abomination somewhere near Japan.
That said, let us not put all the blame on the shoulders of one person. First, this record would probably never have seen the light of day if it wasn't for 'Kokomo', an unlucky collaboration between Mike, Terry Melcher, and two aging hippie veterans (Scott McKenzie of 'If You're Going To San Francisco' fame, and John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas) that had the misfortune to go all the way to No. 1 and become the Beach Boys' first mega-hit since 'Good Vibrations' last struck gold twenty-three years back.
The odd thing about 'Kokomo' is that, with its relaxed sunshine-happy atmosphere, cheap Caribbean flavor, and hedonistic implications, it really belonged somewhere in the mid-Seventies rather than in 1988-89, with dance pop and hair metal as the leading fads. But, on the other hand, there is always a place for bikini-clad beauties in the human heart, an association towards which 'Kokomo' is targeted first and foremost, music and lyrics and all, and as for Mike Love pushing fifty, well, «dirty old men» were all the rage in 1989 (Steven Tyler! well, he wasn't that old in 1989, but still a bit overreaching for his age when it came to pussy-chasing).
Anyway, 'Kokomo' has some nice vocal lines ("that's where we wanna go" is Carl's finest bit of high-pitched delivery on the entire record), but the general aura of the song is downright humiliating — in the good old days, we were ready to accept that atmosphere when it was dominated by Brian Wilson catching heavenly melodic moves right out of the sky, but there is nothing about the melody of 'Kokomo' to remind of Heaven, and that's not even mentioning slick Eighties production (at least it isn't synth-driven, but the electronic drums combined with echo-laden vocals give it a completely plastic face all the same).
Worst of all, 'Kokomo' was the final nail in the coffin — as it started climbing up the charts, boosted by inclusion in a thirty-third-rate Tom Cruise movie (HOT!), Mike must have become fully convinced that this overproduced sunshine-nostalgic crap was exactly that the public wanted to hear from the Beach Boys, and the entire album was built around that attitude. Brian couldn't care less: in contrast to Beach Boys, his involvement here was minimal — he contributed but one song ('In My Car', an upbeat pop-rocker consciously written to emulate the 'I Get Around' spirit, but killed off by inadequate lyrics, dreadful overproduction, and, let's face it, a none-too-overwhelming melody), and sang on a couple others.
Curiously, Carl seemed disinterested as well, since he is completely missing from the songwriters, only contributing lead and backup vocals on other people's tunes. Bruce Johnston was also minimally involved, writing but one tune ('Somewhere Near Japan', another of his pedestrian romantic odes, but at least its romanticism does not seem as utterly forced as all the other emotions on this record, making the song a relative highlight). Al makes his sole mark with the dreadful 'Island Girl', an attempt to stake his own claim to Caribbean territory that sounds dumber and cornier than a dozen 'Kokomos' rolled together. And as for Dennis, well, he'd rather drown than be in any way associated with a record like that.
Further atrocities include (1) the title track, stupid enough to paraphrase Paul Simon ("still cruisin' after all these years"), ask a girl, on Mike Love's behalf, to "hop on my hot rod", er, "in", I mean, and dress it all in an arrangement on which big booming electronic drums are just about the only discernible instrument; (2) 'Wipe Out', a song that used to be a delightful surf classic by the Surfaris, and is here rearranged as an embarrassing «rap-rock» collaboration between the band and The Fat Boys (unfortunately, Brian also bears part of the responsibility); and (3) in full accordance with the «terrible food, and such small portions» logic, the band did not even scrape together enough new material to fill up respectable space — so they had to include three golden oldies at the end, under the pretext of their having been used in recent movie soundtracks.
That last decision was actually a benchmark in stupidity. Just in case if, having listened to the seven originals, someone would still be left thinking whether they are «soft shit» or «real hard shit» — here is a nice comparison base for you. Would you rather hear 'I Get Around' or 'In My Car'? 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' or 'Somewhere Near Japan'? 'California Girls' or 'Kokomo'? And now you, the listener, do not even have to choose — here they are in the same package. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to it — still awful after all these years; much as I'd like to go against the grain and promote, say, 'Make It Big' as a forgotten mini-masterpiece, I'd have to strip myself of all credentials to do that. Thumbs down.