The Beach Boys are easily the most overrated group in rock & roll history — which presents the reviewer with a problem: simply stating the facts invites an overreaction from the band’s maundering cult who exaggerate the surf bums’ importance. But the truth is that Brian Wilson was never a musical genius, though he executed some of the most crafty reworkings of Phil Spector’s production style ever done and, for a few years, tapped into the heart line of teenage lifestyle; that the Beach Boys have not made great rock music since Wild Honey; that the Beach Boys have not made competent pop music since Holland.
Like the LPs that preceded it. L.A. (Light Album), the Beach Boys’ CBS-distribution debut, offers hope to the faithful with a mix of the barely listenable and distant echoes of the good old days. Even the vaunted disco track, “Here Comes the Night,” is not so much a sellout as it is simple padding.
The saving grace of L.A. (Light Album) is the coproduction team of Bruce Johnston and Jim Guercio. Johnston and Guercio operate from an atavistic memory of what the group sounded like when it was still half alive, and come up with a few songs worth hearing: “Good Timin'” has sufficient massed voices to evoke the days of hot-rod trivia, while “Sumahama” is kind of cute, though Mike Love has sung more flat notes by now than anyone else in rock history (a triumph in the face of considerable competition). Of the rest, only “Baby Blue” is as exotic and portentous as it would like to be. And “Baby Blue,” like the Beach Boys themselves, is going nowhere.
Don’t get me wrong. It would be easy to attack L.A. (Light Album) as an awful record, if only out of spite for being bored to death by the jabbering of the Beach Boys’ champions. But this LP is worse than awful. It is irrelevant.