The B-52's

The B-52's

Warner Brothers Records, 1979

http://theb52s.com

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/18/2014

Is there such a thing as futuristic retro? There is if you’re a fan of the Georgia quintet known as the B-52’s. If any band ushered in – and closed out – the ‘80s, utterly changing the pop music landscape as we know it in the process, it’s this one. Their eponymous debut kicked things off, while 1989’s Cosmic Thing (which included their biggest hits “Love Shack” and “Roam”) brought the colorful decade to a close. Along the way, they would sadly lose guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS and faced an uphill battle trying to shed the novelty act label. With openly gay members, odd stage antics and costumes that would make Lady Gaga proud, the B-52’s weren’t afraid to challenge the norm, even if it meant not being fully embraced by the general public.

The extended dance jam “Rock Lobster” deserves to be singled out as the B’s greatest song ever. Roller skating just wouldn’t have been the same without it. Who else remembers shooting the duck to the Fred Schneider refrain of “Down! Down!”? There was nothing even remotely resembling “Rock Lobster” played on the radio at the time…not that it ever got full rotation. There was something kinda scary and almost dangerous about it. What did these strange lyrics my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 mean??? And how about those Yoko Ono-style vocal freak-outs by Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson toward the end? Set to a persistent surf melody, it seems to pick up where “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen left off. Remember how that one set middle America’s teeth on edge back in the ‘60s? Well, in the world of the B-52’s everything old is new again. Might as well put on that beehive wig and twist the night away with the rest of us. “Rock Lobster” is THAT irresistible.

Elsewhere on this debut disc, known as the yellow album in some circles and High Fidelity in others, we have mid-tempo, somewhat muted songs that are a stone’s throw away from being filler tracks. Under the crushing weight of “Rock Lobster,” there’s nothing else on here that comes remotely close to that gold standard. The passable single “Planet Claire” opens the set of tunes, but then later we have virtual carbon copies with “Lava” and “There’s A Moon In The Sky.” There’s not enough melodic variation for any of these songs to make a strong enough or lasting impact. Whenever I see other critics raving that this is the best B-52’s album, I’d venture a guess that they didn’t bother listen to their later works, especially what I consider their masterpiece: 1983’s Whammy! All they needed to do is point at “Rock Lobster” and say case closed. That’s a good enough reason, I suppose.

To be fair, I do like “Hero Worship.” It gives Ricky’s sister Cindy Wilson a chance to shine on her own. Kate Pierson has always garnered more kudos for her considerable singing talents (remember that duet she did with Iggy Pop called “Candy?”…bloody brilliant) but I give Cindy a lot of credit for demonstrating more personality in her expressive vocal style. The stunning harmonies between the two ladies is the stuff of legend. They provide the solid counterpoint to the deadpan delivery of front man Fred Schneider, who can only be described as the flamboyant neighbor of Talking Heads’ lead David Byrne. This first effort by the B-52’s is the sound of a band just getting their sea legs under them. On the follow-up Wild Planet (the red album), they would really come into their own. Stay tuned.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-


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