Part I: The Background
Summer In Paradise is The Beach Boys’ 27th studio album, released pretty late in their career. The album was recorded without any involvement from creative mastermind Brian Wilson and is generally considered to be the worst outing in the band’s oeuvre. The album was a commercial bomb, and apparently the distributor even went bankrupt. Why? Well the songwriting wasn’t up to par, to say the least. Add to that the incredibly sterile production (this album dates back to a time when digital recording was still in its infancy–in fact, it was recorded using a beta version of Pro Tools) and you have a recipe for disaster.
Beach Boy Mike Love essentially set out to create the quintessential summer album, apparently forgetting that he and his bandmates had already accomplished that with 1964’s All Summer Long. From a cheesy quasi-rap number (that was apparently supposed to be a duo with Bart Simpson–yes, you read that right) to an ill-advised remake of a Beach Boys classic, featuring Full House actor John Stamos on lead vocals, the album was, indisputably, a disaster. But is the album REALLY as bad as everyone says?
Oh. Before we get started, I should probably also mention that there are two versions of the album: the US and the UK. The UK version was released slightly afterwards, and some of the songs were rerecorded. I must (very ashamedly) admit that I still have yet to get my hands on the UK version. So this review pertains to the US release.
Part II: The Music
Hot Fun In The Summertime: The album kicks off with a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime”. It’s pretty straightforward as far as covers go; there’s not much originality injected into the arrangement. In fact, the only real noticeable difference is the incredibly sterile production. The layered harmonies do add some degree of charm. Basically, this isn’t a good song, but it’s not all that offensive either. RATING: 3.5/10
Surfin’: Why? Why in the world would they decide to include a remake of their debut single? This immediately makes the listener recall the band’s earlier (re: better) albums. And this remake is as half-assed as they come. It doesn’t deserve a full review. But the actual song is a pretty damn good one. Too bad they went out of their way to ruin it with this sloppy arrangement. RATING: 1/10
Summer Of Love: Mike Love the rapper. And honestly, it’s not THAT bad. The background vocals are reminiscent of the early surf/car hits and the chorus is actually quite catchy (even if parts of it are directly lifted from their 1980 song “Some of Your Love”). The song does have an infectious groove. RATING: 3/10
Island Fever: This is where we first start to realize that this album isn’t actually as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Island Fever is a pretty solid track. It boasts that same laid-back, Hawaiian (or maybe Carribean) vacation feel as their massive hit Kokomo does. We’ve got two nice melodies: the chorus (with splendid backing vocals by Al Jardine) and the verse (backed by angelic harmonies courtesy of… well the other Beach Boys). An art rock masterpiece this is not, but so what? As a pop song, there’s not a hell of a lot you can fault it with. RATING: 6/10
Still Surfin’: A pretty mediocre track. The nostalgic lyrics fall a little flat, but musically the song is accessible and inoffensive. It’s a good enough pastiche of the sunshine pop of the sixties and is only very slightly marred by the synthetic production (which isn’t as obtrusive here as it is elsewhere on the album). RATING: 4/10
Slow Summer Dancin’ (One Summer Night): Typical Bruce Johnston schmaltz. But I happen to like Bruce Johnston schmaltz. This waltz number is sentimental in the cheesiest way. It’s also partly a cover of the doo wop song “One Summer Night”, originally performed by The Danleers. I actually like that Bruce took the song and blended it with one of his own compositions, rather than choosing to perform a straight-up cover. The song doesn’t mimic the doo wop feel of the original, and instead goes for a late eighties ballad feel. Again, if you can tolerate the schmaltz, it isn’t all that bad. RATING: 3.5/10
Strange Things Happen: Another of the album’s better offerings. Ignore the lyrics about some really rad, superstitious hippy chick. Ignore the MOR/adult contemporary production. Ignore the bland musicianship and rehashed tropical island feel of the track. What do you have left? Nothing, actually. But again, I feel that those things aren’t inherently negative qualities that automatically devalue a song. There are some reversed hats at the end of the track to spice things up a little–that was a neat touch, I thought. RATING: 5/10
Remember (Walking In The Sand): I’m going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but I think I actually like this better than the original, performed by the Shangri-Las (blasphemy, I know!). Carl’s vocal here is on point as usual. The backing vocals and arpeggiated synths along with the the wailing saxophone create an intense, melancholic yet energetic vibe. Unlike “Hot Fun In The Summertime” The Beach Boys really add a unique spin to this track, and it’s excellent. Bonus points for the lyrical callback to The Little Girl I Once Knew. RATING: 6/10
Lahaina Aloha: The hidden gem not only of this album, but of the Beach Boys’ entire discography. This song takes everything there is to love about that Carribean/tropical island feel and channels it into what’s actually a damn good song. Its genuine sentimentality reminds me of the classic song “Jamaica Farewell” (which the Beach Boys actually recorded a cover of at some point). But what really makes this track is Carl’s soaring vocals on the chorus, which he provides effortlessly. It’s understated moments like these that demonstrate that Carl was one of the greatest vocalists ever to have lived. The song is catchy and melodically pleasing all the way from the neat little guitar riff that begins the song to the fade out at the end. RATING: 9/10
Under The Boardwalk: And just when the album is getting good… another uninspired cover. But again, the trademark Beach Boys harmonies and heavenly vocals from Carl transform this track into something quite listenable. RATING: 3.5/10
Summer In Paradise: In the title track, Mike Love does what he does best: remind everyone about all of the great songs he’s been a part of in the past rather than focusing on the present. The song is underscored by a not-so-subtle environmental message, which is actually a pretty fitting end to the album. Think about it. The entire album up until this point has been focused on having fun in the sun, about tropical paradises, about surfing those crystal-clear waves. But all of that’s jeopardized if we don’t start taking care of the oceans. Unfortunately, the lyrics lack a sense of poetry and come across as plain old preachy. But not a bad song. Not at all. RATING: 5/10
Forever: Terrible cover of Dennis Wilson’s beautiful song. RATING: 0/10
Part III: The Album
Aesthetic: The production is horrendous. 80’s production usually gets a bad rap; sure it’s cheesy and synthetic, but it has a degree of charm to it. The early 90’s production style used here lacks that charm. When the production is understated, the album is better for it. The ALBUM ART, however, is a thing of beauty. Makes me with I could get my hands on a vinyl pressing of this album (as far as I’m aware, the only pressing in existence is a South Korean one of questionable legality). The art really captures the beauty of a tropical paradise, while also evoking an environmentalist theme. Oddly enough, one of the best album covers in the Beach Boys discography. SCORE: 2/5
Artistic Merit: You’re joking, right? SCORE: 0/5
Flow: Yeah, the songs fit together well enough. I wouldn’t call it a song-cycle or anything like that, but they all do have a similar tone and production style and all revolve around a similar theme. It’s a cohesive listen, even if the cohesion amounts to something less than satisfactory. SCORE: 5/10
Part IV: Supplemental Listening
Soul Searchin’: This track’s genesis dates back to Brian Wilson’s sessions with Andy Paley. The song has a distinct, soulful Phil Spector sound, and with that oldies feel, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the 15 Big Ones album. The song features Carl Wilson on lead in what I believe is his last performance on a Brian-penned track. The song can be found on the Made In California box set, and an updated version was also featured on Brian’s Gettin’ In Out Of My Head album. RATING: 7.5/10
You’re Still A Mystery: This song’s the highlight of the Paley sessions. Like “Soul Searchin'”, it was recorded with The Beach Boys in mind, but an album never came to fruition and so the song was scrapped. The arrangement here is classic Brian, even if the vocal is a little rough. Melody-wise, this song’s just as good as anything Brian’s ever done. There’s a bootleg version that circulates, but be wary: that version plays at the wrong speed (and consequently the wrong pitch). For an official release, check out disc 5 of the Made In California box set. RATING: 9.5/10
CLOSING REMARKS: I’m biased because of how big a Beach Boys fan I am, but honestly, this album really just isn’t as horrendous as its reputation suggests. Is it worth a listen? Not necessarily. But I can’t help but think that a lot of the flak this album gets has more to do with the fact that it’s a freaking Beach Boys album rather than the actual quality. But Brian wasn’t involved, so what did you expect?
FINAL SCORE: 40/100