Review: The B-52′s’ “Funplex”

Mar 28, 2008 12:17pm

“Funplex” is the B-52′s’ first album in 16 years.  It’s actually pretty hard to believe.  Even harder to believe is that next year is the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut.  Famous for early hits like “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho,” the B-52′s established themselves the rulers of goofy party music. From Fred Schneider’s manically flamboyant vocal shouts, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s over-kitsched vocal tag-team effect and their often absurd lyrical tendencies, it was obvious from the start that the band didn’t take themselves too seriously.  Throughout the 80′s, this Athens, Georgia band lurked near the underground.  In 1985, they suffered a tragic blow when original guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS. For a band known for being happy and full of energy, it must’ve been a very trying time; especially since shortly afterwards they released their album “Bouncing off the Satellites.” In 1989, with the release of “Cosmic Thing,” the unexpected happened.  They were welcomed back with open arms and the singles “Love Shack” and “Roam” shot them to a level of fame they’d never seen before.  Success must’ve been bittersweet for them considering that it was their first album as a quartet. Three years later in 1992, Cindy Wilson (Ricky’s sister) left the band and the three remaining members released the somewhat disappointing and boring “Good Stuff.” For “Funplex” Cindy Wilson thankfully returns to the fold.  She may very well be the band’s secret weapon considering that “Funplex” is remarkably more “fun” than the Wilson-less “Good Stuff” was “good.” If you’ve never been able to get into the band’s stylized, signature sound, you still won’t be able to.  If you are a longtime fan, this is the album you are waiting for. Now signed to mostly electronic, hip label Astralwerks, the band employs new electronic elements well into their sound.  “Pump,” “Eyes Wide Open” and “Dancing Now” for instance sound like nice, modern nods to Devo in certain places.  Keith Strickland’s guitar sounds bolder, too.  “Hot Corner” and “Ultraviolet” are both fueled by some of the band’s best guitar riffs since “52 Girls.”  “Juliet of the Spirits” recalls “Roam” and “Topaz.”  With the new technological advancements, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sound downright ethereal.  If the climate was right, I’d expect this song to repeat the success of “Roam.” The title-track boasts another stellar guitar line.  Listening to this song, it sounds tight and crisp.  You can hear the band’s determination to reestablish themselves, and thankfully here they have the tunes and the riffage to back it up.  “Love in the Year 3000″ sticks with the band’s longtime obsession with space, the future and other such fantastic elements, but Fred Schneider’s robot voice delivery is just strange. (Hey, depending on your mood, you might consider the “Schneider-bot” to be awesome!)  The B-52′s have never been ones to shy away from being different, which has always been part of what makes them fun to listen to.  “Deviant Ingredient” at first continues the great guitar showcase, but then sounds vaguely formulaic and bland.  “Too Much to Think About” has the same go-go energy that fueled many of the band’s early records, but it would be better if Schneider were more manic.  For once he seems too relaxed here.  (It’s almost disconcerting!) The album’s closer, “Keep the Party Going” could serve as the record’s thesis statement.  It closes the album on a high-note with a signature-style groove.  “Funplex” is surprising.  Usually when bands go away this long, they don’t come back sounding as fresh.  The B-52′s are revitalized and breaking some new sonic ground.  They aren’t simply coasting on their legacy – they are adding to it.  This record is almost as good as “Cosmic Thing.”  Given the state of the music industry today, it is sad that it probably won’t reach as big an audience.

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus