The B-52’s

2008: EMI/Astralwerks 094922873071 852 28730

  1. Pump
  2. Hot Corner
  3. Ultraviolet
  4. Juliet of the Spirits
  5. Funplex
  6. Eyes Wide Open
  7. Love in the Year 3000
  8. Deviant Ingredient
  9. Too Much to Think About
  10. Dancing Now
  11. Keep This Party Going

On my first listen-through of this (at the end of March 2008) I wasn’t particularly moved. Some of the lyrics were cute, and it had a steady jammin’ speed, but it didn’t sound like there was much fun going on. By the third and fourth playings, however, I was starting to get into it. A couple of days later, I had to force myself to NOT play it. There’s fun here alright, just a different tone to it: it’s grittier and much more sexual than before, plus Keith Strickland (who continues to get hotter-looking, I don’t know HOW) laces many of the tracks with darkly catchy guitar hooks that really groove once you notice them.

I had an inkling that such a sneaky back-door route to my Heavy Rotation brain-play would be involved when I first heard the single “Funplex” on a photo-montage posting on YouTube ahead of the album’s release: the song as a whole didn’t grab me, but the Kate Pierson/Cindy Wilson harmonies started to…and their sustained harmonic-fourth for the “oh honey—is it all about money?” line positively snatched the muscle leading from my ear to my dance bones and would NOT let go. (It still hasn’t, days later.) There’s a hint of “Love Shack” in their arrangement, but this isn’t trying to be “Love Shack.”

Which brings up the question of revisiting old territory: are they doing any of that here? I’d say No, with a qualifier or two: “Ultraviolet” has whiffs of “Love Shack” in its references to a destination called The G-spot where we should “pull the car over,” and “Hot Corner” had their first album’s “Hot Lava” kicking around in the back of my mind although its lyrics were more like the lamentably not-as-good-as-it-should-have-been “Hot Pants Explosion” from Good Stuff.

The overall tone or theme of the songs here is celebratory, specifically partying in the dancing sense (rather than the boozing-it-up sense, for the most part) and delighting in the carnal sense. So there’s lots of shimmying and shagging throughout the album (and on “Too Much to Think About” you’ll be dancing plenty while they sing about shagging), with a few threads of global-awareness issues and, in the case of “Dancing Now,” a rare bit of genuine “you broke my heart you bastard” openness, although the latter is delivered in the most uplifting way possible, focusing on the “I’m stronger now” perspective, impressively and touchingly. But there are no lobsters, no dogs dyed dark green, no obvious gimmickry screaming “REHASH! CRUTCH!” Just a mostly-solid group of entirely danceable and eventually engaging songs.

The slowest to get to its point is “Eyes Wide Open,” which takes its time laying down electronica-patterning over a thumping bass drum and then tests your patience with a Fred Schneider vocal that’s like a cheesy hypnotist. By the time the girls inject some dynamic life into it you’re thinking “maybe I should skip to the next track…” and yet the combination finally does gel. And it does so enough that the last minute-and-a-half, which is just the instrumental groove repeating with variations from within the track, seems just PERFECT and you’d be happy with another four or five minutes of it. “Deviant Ingredient” has grown on me in stages, and it’s starting to seem like “Dirty Back Road” meets “Deadbeat Club” and goes “Breezin’.” Or something. Or maybe it’s just “Planet Claire” meets “Follow Your Bliss,” I dunno.

Some of the tracks resemble each other a bit too much and seem indistinguishable if you land in the middle of them, but each does have its own character and tone. But then the secret to enjoying this album seems to involve the circumstances under which you hear it: the louder the better, and above all it works if you’re where you can actually dance to it. “Keep This Party Going” for example seems to move a little slowly if you just happen to hear it or are listening to it at a mild level while sitting down; stand up and crank it and you will dislocate your booty and have some serious nasty gyration underway. (Consider this a testimonial on my part.)

As far as hilarious touches go, they’re here but not belabored for the most part. Probably the most overt laugh, for me, was Schneider (eventually joined by Wilson) repeating “robots…bootybots…erotobots” in monotone on “Love in the Year 3000” (which is not as wild a song as they might have come up with for such a title in the 1980s but actually isn’t bad). Other than that, the only part played to broad fullness is the video for “Funplex” in which Schneider is shown zipping through crowds at a multi-level shopping mall on a Segway, wearing sunglasses, a supersized drink’s straw at his mouth.

I’m not sure about “Juliet of the Spirits”—I mean, I know the movie pretty well, and the song’s shimmering with gorgeous multitracked vocal harmonies, but I’d like to know what got them to write this one. The lyrics relate to the film’s messages, I suppose, but not precisely or completely. I gather it’s a sort of impressionist peronal response to the film.

Probably the best aspect of this album is that it’s the full foursome again, which means the truly ravishing Pierson/Wilson harmonies are in full dazzle, sometimes so bewildering that I can’t tell who’s who. Heaven!!