there goes a narwhal

 

the B-52's

 

For a group that started off as promising as the Beefs did, they sure forgot how to write a decent song quickly. Perhaps it was because they shifted their sound from a simmering stew of sixties sounds to empty eighties electronic edancepop. Perhaps it was the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson. Perhaps they were just not destined for longevity.

lineup: Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards); Fred Schneider (vocals); Keith Strickland (drums; switched to every instrument but drums starting with Satellites); Cindy Wilson (vocals; not on Good Stuff); Ricky Wilson (surf guitar; died during the recording of Satellites)

review index: The B-52's / Wild Planet / Mesopotamia ep / Whammy! / Bouncing off the Satellites / Cosmic Thing / Good Stuff

missing albums: none that I know of

apex: The B-52's
nadir: Whammy!
overlooked: uh...the first one again?


The B-52's - 1979

Rating: ****
Best songs: Rock Lobster, Planet Claire, Lava, 6060-842
Worst songs: none

 

Christ, this isn't anything like "Love Shack" at all! It's like some space aliens were listening to the radio during the early-60s and decided to synthesize a new musical style from all that pop and surf music. The instrumentation relies solely on Keith Strickland's minimal drumming, Ricky Wilson's wiry surf guitar plucking, and Kate Pierson's cheesy Vox organ, and Fred Schneider delivers some absurdist lyrics (in a not-really-singing-nor-speaking way) about rock lobsters, girls driving Plymouth Satellites from a planet called Claire, and backwards phone numbers, backed up by the enthusastic singing of Kate and Cindy Wilson. And the songs? Catchy as can be. Not a single lame track, though the cover of "Downtown" comes close. An essential document of the new wave era.

No, no, see, it's a record, not a paper. I was just using the word... Oh forget it.


Wild Planet - 1980

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Private Idaho, Runnin' Around
Worst songs: Dirty Back Road, Devil in My Car, 53 Miles West of Venus

 

Um? I was lead to assume that this was a rather good album. Instead, this thing sounds rather like that pile o'crap Whammy!, though not nearly as bad. Where'd the neat riffs go? Ricky's just playing boring chords now, fer chrissake! Okay, so thankfully there's at least one classic this time, "Private Idaho", and "Runnin' Around" is pretty neat, but ugh, you've got go-nowhere songs like "Dirty Back Road" and "Devil in My Car" clogging up the rest of the record. I'm disappointed.

Private message to Rich: hahahahahaha, you suck!!!!!!!11


Mesopotamia ep - 1982

Rating: **
Best songs: Mesopotamia, Cake
Worst songs: Toss That Beat in the Garbage Can, Deep Sleep

 

Fuck you, fucking Mesopotamia. Fucking David fucking Byrne fucking produced this fucking piece of fucking trash, though it fucking contains two fucking decent tunes, that being the fucking title track, which sounds like David fucking Byrne's Fucking Heads, and fucking "Cake", featuring some fucking weird dialogue between fucking Cindy and fucking Kate. The rest is fucking dull, but still fucking decent when fucking compared to Fucking Crappy!.

In case you didn't get the message: fuck.


Whammy! - 1983

Rating: 1/2
Best songs: Legal Tender
Worst songs: everything else

 

God, this is a terrible album. Compared to this, Mesopotamia sounds like a chorus of angels. Though there's one moderately catchy song, the opener "Legal Tender", the rest of this is horrid, repetative crap. I refuse to listen to it again (partially because the tape broke).


Bouncing off the Satellites - 1986

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Summer of Love, Ain't It a Shame
Worst songs: Wig, Theme for a Nude Beach

 

Normally I wouldn't be too pleased by a record like this, but after the crapfest Whammy!, this is rather a relief. It's 1986, of course, so the order of the day is blaring synthesizers and crashing drum machines (Keith Strickland plays guitar, bass, and keyboards on this thing, but only plays any percussion on one track), and sometimes that doesn't mesh well with the singing (Fred Schneider is hardly featured on the first half, and the girls' voices get kinda irritating with the glossy 80sfied production), but heck, "Summer of Love" alone is worth the $1 you'll probably pay for the thing. Admittedly, the cheeseometer goes through the roof (especially for this band!) on a few tracks, notably "Housework" and the corporate rocker "Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland", but things only get overbearingly bad on the side one closer "Wig" and side two opener "Theme for a Nude Beach" (Fred's narrative "Detour Through Your Mind" comes close, but it's absurd enough to work for me). Most of the songs are just average, but average > bad. Y'know?


Cosmic Thing - 1989

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Deadbeat Club, Roam, Channel Z, Dry County
Worst songs: June Bug, Bushfire, the last two minutes of Love Shack

 

Hurrah for selling out. Well, you know that's what they wanted the whole time -- after all, why would they have made synth-rockers like "Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland" if they wanted to stay obscure?

So yes, recruiting hitmakers Nile Rodgers and Don Was to produce this thing was an obviously calculated move, but that doesn't matter, since this album is a whole lot better than the last two. The gorgeous singles "Roam" and "Deadbeat Club" shine admirably, and "Channel Z" manages to circumvent the cloying social commentary lyrics by being really friggin' catchy. Also, "Dry County" is a nice summery tune, and the album ends nicely with a couple shimmery tunes. There are really only two tracks that twist my orca the wrong way: "June Bug" and "Bushfire" fail to do anything that impress, or even interests me. Oh, and the bigass hit single "Love Shack" would be a whole lot better had it been about two minutes shorter.

Conclusion: Catchy songs good. Artistic integrity expendable.


Good Stuff - 1992

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Revolution Earth, Hot Pants Explosion, Good Stuff
Worst songs: Dreamland, The World's Green Laughter, most of the second half, really

 

It's incredibly hard not to make a lame joke about the title, but I will attempt to resist. After the smash success of Cosmic Thing, Cindy Wilson departed to start a family. So the three remaining Beefs decided that their success was due to the dance-happy rhythms and not the good melodies. Which in all probability was correct, since the public is stupid.

Well, the point to which I'm alluding is this: instead of writing some solid melodies, they decided to make a bunch of dance tracks (Not dance in the electronic sense, but dance in the "get up and move around" sense) with some tacked-on melodies. To tell the truth, the first half has some good tunes: the opener "Tell It Like It T-I-Is" is passable enough, "Revolution Earth" and the title track contain about the best sets of notes on the whole album, and "Hot Pants Explosion" is silly enough to pass my grueling inspection, but the second half just devolves into half-baked mediocrity ("Dreamland" drags on for nearly eight minutes, and "The World's Green Laughter" is an instrumental! an INSTRUMENTAL!!!). I bought this off ebay for a nickel (plus shipping), so I'm not bitter, but you should probably just stick to the previous and first albums.


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