The B-52's

The B-52's

Warner Brothers Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I freely admit I'm no fan of anything in the "camp" genre. I have never sat through a whole showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the few excerpts I've seen I can't stand. (Good thing I'm not still friends with one woman who I know would have dragged me to a showing and declared my "virginity" to the audience.) And even though I've got most of their albums, I have never understood the drawing power of Georgia's own B-52's.

Oh, it's not that I don't know how to appreciate them when they do things right. "Roam" is one of the most danceable numbers I've heard over the last decade or so, and tracks like "Love Shack" grow on you. But no matter how hard I try, I just cannot see The B-52's self-titled debut release from 1979 as "cute" or "catchy". Instead, I see it as "cacophony", as half-ass novelty rock trying its hand at new wave.

Leading the charge is Fred Schneider, whose vocal style is, aah, "unique", to say the least. It's also damned annoying, though I can't go any further without offending some group, and I get enough flame mail as it is. Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, possibly the true talents of this band, are underutilized as vocalists, while the rhythm section of Keith Strickland and the late Ricky Wilson (who succumbed to AIDS in 1985) plow through a rhythm section that is muddled under the production of Chris Blackwell.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Image, of course, is everything to The B-52's; if the Comedy Central program Viva Variety! had been on the air in 1979, chances are The B-52's would have been their house band. Hairdos that would have made John Waters proud. Clothes that would have sent John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever screaming towards the exits. And the music? If only it were as noteworthy as their image.

The surprise hit off this album, "Rock Lobster," is best remembered simply as a novelty song - 'cause there isn't much more about it to remember, except for Ricky Wilson's opening guitar lick. Lyrically, it's a mess ("We were at a party / His ear lobe fell in the deep" - say what?!?); production-wise, there is no definite treble or bass in the mix, leaving the song sitting at an unhappy medium. If someone were to remix this song into something listenable, I'd be willing to give it another chance.

It's unfortunate that the bulk of The B-52's suffers from the same lyrical and production problems as "Rock Lobster." Although "Planet Claire" seems to stretch on for an eternity, I'll give the band credit for keeping it interesting musically (at least through the first half). Of all the songs on this one, "Hero Worship" holds out the most promise, and has some of the best lyrical development on the album. (The best lyrics, "6060-842," are unfortunately wrapped around a poorly written song musically.)

This is where the praise stops for The B-52's, as the rest of the album is almost unlistenable. "Lava." lyrically, is intensely stupid; when I listened to it, all I could think about was the song from the "Volcano" episode of South Park. "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" does to new wave what Dark Star did to science fiction movies, while "Dance This Mess Around" is a total waste of time.

So what is it about The B-52's that makes this album collapse? It's almost that they got too cute for their own good, and the whole project suffered as a result. There's a fine line between cuteness and annoyance; unfortunately, Schneider and crew hopscotch right over that line. It's something when you take your own novelty too seriously.

Of course, fans of the band will probably discount everything I've just said, and continue to froog along with "Rock Lobster." Fine - I'm not gonna try and stop you. But for anyone seriously thinking about this one, best think twice about it. The B-52's is to new wave what artificial sweetener is to cola - it leaves a terrible, chemical aftertaste.

Rating: C-

User Rating: A-



© 1998 Christopher Thelen 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 Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.