The B-52s: The B-52s (Island)

ANYONE WITH even half an ear cocked to the dialogue that surrounds the music must have heard by now that they’re living in some sort of new golden age of pop: naive, zestful, transient and confusing. A period of musical adolescence. Anything goes.

Or, more to the point, anything could go given the right alignment of forces too vague and co-incidental to fully enumerate. Look at the charts, look at the clubs; rock’s moving fast. The cynical, mistrustful gloom that fell last year has been dispelled, the inertia overcome, and old criteria outmoded. And anyway, it’s not a time for pundits. Actions are speaking louder than words.

Which is a generalised way of explaining why it would be good, if a mite prickly, to be in the shoes of The B-52s at this present moment. Let’s get specific…

This is the best debut album of the year. No conditions, no exceptions. As innovative and invigorating as New Boots and Panties or Talking Heads ’77, and as wayward yet accessible. That good.

When all The B-52s meant to me was a casually bought single of odd connotations and amusing combinations I would have doubted their chances of pulling such a chestnut from the fire. But live tapes testified that there was more here than was first divulged. They could play, they had songs, they have ideas. They’ve got wit and they’ve got energy. What more do you want?

The chops to transcend the marketing machine that is now gearing up to launch them but has been known in the past to leave some sorry casualties in its wake, perhaps? I’d like to say “Who cares?”, but the trouble is I do. It’d be a shame and a crime for The B-52s to fall foul of that sort of fickle elitism. There’s too much here for everybody. Music to laugh with, music to intrigue, music to dance to, music to stir you up, and nothing you could safely anticipate. Each of the nine songs offers fresh angles. It’s hard to know where to put the needle down.

So we’ll start at the bottom, with the fatback drums, propulsive guitar and skin tight arrangements that are the unifying currents and The B-52s most obvious asset in this novel era of itchy feet. Nowhere is the quality more apparent than on ‘There’s A Moon In The Sky’, which crisply captures the nervous, anxious thrill of the search for romance (with the most unlikely of metaphors) and rocks like a rocket on a gantry.

Similarly vivid, exceptional lyrical gambits are pulled off throughout. ‘Dance This Mess Around’ implores boys and girls to loosen up a little in their dealings with each other, not to grow stale in their responses. ‘606 0842’ is one of those numbers you see scrawled on seedy walls; it ends in frustration. ‘Hot Lava’ teases a naughty, nonsensical pun out over its approximately three minute length. ‘Hero Worship’, written by a friend of the band and sung by Cindy Wilson with the most fearsome unchained passion from a female rock voice since Patti Smith (who has clearly inspired her) cut ‘Gloria’ and ‘Free Money’ – deals in no uncertain terms with (get this) emasculation.

“I hero worship”, she admits. “He deserves it. I DESERVE IT!”, she screams. If someone else sang this song it could be interpreted as appallingly submissive. She sings it like a tiger – you can’t help but feel she’s getting the upper hand.

To words like these – that dazzle and play like the words of Beefheart and Dury, simultaneously bawdy and innocent – add the most disciplined use of tunes and spaces this side of James Brown and that side of Talking Heads, sweeten with the beat, shake and stir.

I haven’t mentioned ’52 Girls’, the B-side of their first single, which has improved with age, and ‘Rock Lobster’, the A-side, which hasn’t. Nor have I referred to the spooky ‘Planet Claire’ or the delightfully throwaway version of Pet Clark’s ‘Downtown’, which comes off like two little Rita Tushinghams dabbing on lipstick and rouge in front of their mother’s dresser.

But I don’t think I can sit still any longer. People, it’s hot. Play it till you drop.

© Paul RambaliNew Musical Express, 30 June 1979

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