Cosmic Thing

The B-52's

Reprise Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Denise Henderson


I always considered the B-52's somewhat of a novelty act, kitschy without real substance. Back in my college days, "Rock Lobster" ruled the airwaves and everybody at every party you went to was bopping around madly to a catchy, but rather empty tune that just naturally propelled you to dance. Even those poor frat boys with no rhythm could manage this little dance number. To me, the B-52's were sort of like shopping at a novelty store where the baubles catch your eye temporarily but don't necessarily force you into a real investment of thought, time or money. I dismissed them as just another post-punk, "new-wave" phenomenon that would fade with time like A Flock of Seagulls or The The.

OK, they stuck around. They still sport God-awful thrift store fashions and bee-hive hairdos that would topple the Empire State Building. But Cosmic Thing is actually pretty darn good. The duo production team of Don Was, who is legendary behind the board, and Nile Rogers, who is pretty damn great as well, really helped flesh out this disc and prevent it from becoming just another fad thing rather than cosmic.

That said, the title cut is easily the worst song on the disc and the most reminiscent of "Rock Lobster." The heavy dance beat over monotonous vocals urging you to "shake your cosmic thing" just seem forced and regurgitated. The thematic space mumbo-jumbo throughout this record annoys me, but in between there's actually some decent tunes.

Two of the strongest numbers rely on what I call the outsider's perspective or the joy of being a loser. My favorite song is "Deadbeat Club" which proudly demonstrates that being a member of this club is something to aspire to in all its slacker pride. Whether it be the next beer or caffeine buzz, the simple pleasures of the poor and success-challenged merely want to "dance in the garden/in torn sheets of the rain." Here the vocal harmonies of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson work beautifully in the chorus. In fact, their harmonies are one of the best components throughout the record as their voices work sturdily and consistently within the quirky and often silly premises of the songwriting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Another celebration of the little things is the semi-hit, "Love Shack," which is one of Don Was' productions and smacks of all his sonic tricks. The celebration of life in dance and music is demonstrated by the repetitive chorus "Everybody's movin/everbody's groovin baby!" Well, when in doubt, dancing and drinking and having a little fun always worked for me! The touch of horns flesh this number out and give it another trademark Was touch.

The slower "Dry County" describes a typical small town lazy summer day where the "heat of the day got me in a haze/got me in daze". While it illustrates how the girls feel the stagnation of growing up in small-town Americana without even the relief of alcohol, the guitars and organ work of Keith Strickland turn on a sizzle with this and another Nile Rogers production, "Roam".

"Roam" was probably the only other true radio hit from Cosmic Thing and the exuberant rhythm section with Sara Lee's bass playing excel under Rogers' tutelage. Unfortunately, Rogers' guest guitar appearance later on "Topaz" is rather wasted and trivial. I like "Roam" better than the more often played "Love Shack" only because its instrumentation is a bit deeper and sophisticated and equally as catchy of a listen.

What puts me off throughout this record and especially on "Channel Z" is the pseudo New-Age spiritualism and the aforementioned space age posture. While I appreciate this song's youthful idealism and its desire for a better world as it predicts "something good will happen/I feel light has got to come through/And I need it/Something big and lovely", I'm not sure this sophomoric political stance really holds up under keen observation. I certainly wish it was as easy as the song's suggestion that love will conquer all and allow us to escape the banality and corruption of modern life.

But at the same time maybe that's part of the refreshing posture of most of the album. The themes of escaping through some kind of spiritual beliefs, however misdirected or unreal, and the simple acts of dancing, swinging in a swing or the company of your deadbeat buddies seem to be the only solutions available. Perhaps all the complications once removed make the solutions simple and fast - at least for the B-52's and their fans who enjoy a good brew and a good beat.

The closing "Follow Your Bliss" is a pretty instrumental ditty with more strong, funky organ and guitar work by Strickland. Oddly, the band's most recognizable member, Fred Schneider, does absolutely nothing for me vocally or otherwise on this record. He is merely a prop that accentuates that annoying kitsch image.

For fun factor, Cosmic Thing is a good record with two excellent producers doing double duty. I wouldn't use it as a guide to save the world, but the B-52's might argue otherwise.

Rating: B

User Rating: B-



© 1998 Denise Henderson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.