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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Beach Boys: Still Cruisin'


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.


  1. While most of this record is really bad, I can't help liking "Kokomo". Vocals in parts when they are enumerating various islands & resorts ("Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go" and such) somehow resonate inside me and make me feel good, just like chorus on "Good Vibrations".

    It seems to be purely physical thing - I certainly haven't any romantic ideas about song's theme. Still, for me this is one of the most memorable Beach Boys' songs.

  2. Someone once told me that we would all consider "Kokomo" to be really great if it were by Ween pulling one of their jokey genre exercises. And maybe they're right. But that doesn't change the fact that the Beach Boys were responsible for it and they took it completely seriously. Still, I don't hate it as much as some do. At least it's not drenched in synths and it's got that nice Carl vocal. Nonetheless I would feel no sense of loss if I never heard it again.
    "In My Car" is sorta OK, and would fit in well with the other tracks on Brian's first solo album, though it would still easily be the worst song if it had been included there. Brian was keeping his best songs to himself at this point.
    "Still Crusin" is quite possibly the worst most catchy song of all time. If I hear the track just once I'll be humming "Come on let's cruise you've got nothing to lose" all freaking week and wanting to kill myself the whole time. One of the most obnoxious ear worms ever.
    I still can't decide whether its worse that they rerecorded awful versions of old songs on Summer in Paradise, or that they couldn't even be bothered to do that here and just tacked the originals on at the end instead. The ultimate in laziness.

  3. Oh GOD you are going to review these late period albums. Pretty embarrassing. I actually find "In My Car" to be a hilarious highlight of the album. It has Brian's weird stamp all over it. Kinda like something from Sweet Insanity but way stupider. The rest is some of the worst crap the band ever pandered out. That's all folks.

  4. Bleh... This is the second worst album I've ever heard (the worst is this one's follow-up). This isn't the Beach Boys, though. This is Mike Love ruining an already tarnished reputation. He has always been my least favorite Beach Boy, and for a damn good reason. You were right to say on your old site that it's best to stop with the Beach Boys after their self-titled album and move on to Brian Wilson's solo career.

  5. Question for G.S.: were you planning to review the "Good Timin': Live at Knebworth 1980" album at some point? Not that it's a great live album or anything (mostly oldies, a sprinkling of newer material, and some occasional oddities such as Dennis' cover of "You Are So Beautiful"), but I'd like to hear your opinion on it.

    1. Perhaps. Wait until I get around to the "Addenda" section for the band (archive releases).

    2. Just for the record, Dennis co-wrote "You Are So Beautiful" so it's actually not really a cover.

  6. Wow Ken, I never knew that. You learn something new every day.

  7. I can't hate Kokomo anymore after watching the latest Stephen Colbert episode: @ 5 minutes.

  8. Yes, this thing is a not a real album, but a supremely botched compilation. As you said, they do a miniature version of the "So Tough/Pet Sounds" blunder by tacking on three hits from the band's classic period. As before, they barely sound like the same group, and the new material seems even worse.

    Secondly, they should have left off that dreadful cover of "Wipe-Out". It is NOT a Beach Boys song -- it's a Fat Boys song, it was on a Fat Boys album, and that's where it should have stayed. Beach Boys and hip-hop is as bad as Beach Boys and country (more examples of both were to come, unfortunately).

    The thing is, they did have a few tracks which they could have used and made the album more consistent, if not improving the overall quality. "Chasing the Sky" (1984) appeared in another obscure bad move called "Up the Creek". "Happy Endings" was a sappy 1987 Johnston/Melcher ballad (film: Whoopi Goldberg's "The Telephone") which was a duet with Little Richard, of all people. Finally, the first two Melcher productions -- "Rock and Roll to the Rescue" and a cover of "California Dreamin'" has appeared on a 1986 compilation, but the "Kokomo" crowd wouldn't have noticed if they reappeared here.

    Given that, most of the material is pretty lousy. The title track is basically a retread of both "Kokomo" and a song called, yes, "Cruisin'" that Mike wrote in 1978 for his side band, Celebration. Mike you're now 50, you shouldn't really be cruising at your age. "In My Car" is actually an outtake from Brian's solo album (lyrics by the infamous Dr. Landy and his girlfriend)with Beach Boys vocal overdubs. Again, the band is too old for "I Get Around", part 2. Al's song may be the single worst one he's ever written, clearly also attempting to stake a claim to "Kokomo"'s territory. Dreadful.
    The best thing about "Make it Big" is that it's better than the horrendous mix that opens the movie.

    I do actually like "Somewhere Near Japan". It has a nice folk rock feel that is atypical for the group, minimal 80's production, and interesting lyrics. Even if they are about John Phillips' daughter calling him up from Asia and asking for drug money (The lines "And now she's driftin' on some Chinese junk" and "Strung out in no man's land" take on multiple levels of meaning, don't they?).

    Otherwise, this is a mostly worthless release. I only have it because I got a free LP, and you can only get it digitally now.


    1. "Chasing The Sky" is a pretty nice song. Great Carl vocal on that one. Clearly the band didn't give two shits about their reputation at this point letting a good song like that go to waste on some random compilation.