The Beach Boys: Back with some good vibrations
The Beach Boys - That’s Why God Made the Radio (EMI)
Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
Patti Smith - Banga (Columbia)
Friends - Manifest! (Lucky Number)
Troubles? The three veteran artists featured in this week’s column have had a few during a combined 150-odd years in the music business – be it mental or physical illness, lawsuits, drug addiction, losing loved ones, fluctuating commercial fortunes or the predictably violent repercussions of sleeping with your daughter-in-law.
But each returns with a new album that in its own way represents a personal or artistic triumph, and proves music is often the best therapy.
That’s Why God Made the Radio begins the only way the first full studio album in decades from the surviving members of The Beach Boys could: five voices locked in glorious a capella harmony. But it comes after a disharmonious few years, during which composer Brian Wilson - following much-publicised mental health problems and an inspirational comeback to studio and stage – was sued by lead singer and cousin Mike Love over his multi award-winning re-recording of the California surf-pop legends’ long lost album, Smile.With the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductees set to become the first ever US pop band to hit their 50th anniversary, they’ve patched things up at the 11th hour. It’s worth embracing this fragile peace, lest it ruin the sweet sentiment of these songs.
The title track is a mid-tempo summery swoon, harking back to the golden age when transistor radios and not Spotify were how you tuned in to the hits. Nostalgia is pretty much par for the course, yet this long-overdue album can’t help but feel heart-warming and celebratory.
Celebrate, too, the return from the brink of Bobby Womack with his first LP in 12 years, The Bravest Man in the Universe. It arrives just weeks after news that the US soul survivor has had the all-clear following cancer treatment – the latest trial he has faced in 60 years marred by cocaine addiction and a personal life so messed-up that even the most fertile-minded of soap scriptwriters would deem it implausible (an example from Womack’s autobiography Midnight Mover: being shot in 1970 by his wife, Sam Cooke’s widow Barbara, after getting caught in bed with her daughter).
It’s a stirring return by one of the last stars of soul’s golden age, and an inspired call from XL chief Richard Russell, who, following a similar job on Gil Scott-Heron’s final album, places another classic, forgotten voice in a modern context.
Damon Albarn co-produces the magnificent, bare-boned acoustic Deep River and twitchy electro-house banger Love is Gonna Lift You Up, into which Womack pours the kind of raw emotion only a man who knows each vocal may be his last can.
Apologies to Patti Smith for placing her in such dysfunctional company here – the New Yorker has been in typically impressive, productive form, with a National Book Award and Polar Music Prize among recent decorations. But there’s an inescapably elegiac feeling to Banga – featuring as it does contributions from her adult children by her late husband, MC5 guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, and an Amy Winehouse tribute. Backed by long-term collaborator Lenny Kaye and Television’s Tom Verlaine, the punk godmother is inspired to create yet more electrifying and meditative music for restless hearts and minds.
And another thing…
If only in a last-ditch bid to lower the average age of the artists in this column, behold the debut album by New York’s most stylish new band, Friends. All catwalk-model hooks and post-disco grooves, it’s the supercool soundtrack to an inner-city summer.