The B-52s: Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation

HISTORY OF Athens perfect popsters with two new tracks.

MIX UP a little Duane Eddy, some old B-Movies, a bit of Beefheart and Andy Warhol – douse it all with hairspray and you had The B-52’s. They ought to have been a complete mess, like you might get if you held an all-night bongo party in a second-hand store. But the genius of The B-52’s was that for all their kooky abandon, impossible hair and big vocals, they always sounded natural – like they were visitors from the distant Planet Pop, come down to show us how it should really be done. They were misfits who, putting things together that oughtn’t have fit, somehow made them fit perfectly.

On ‘Planet Claire’ and ‘Rock Lobster’ (a beach party hosted by Salvador Dali), they said and did it all, two cranked-up blasts of garage-pop candy-coated in arthouse irony and stream-of-consciousness sensibility. You might have expected them to explode spectacularly after a couple of hits, like the similarly meta-poptastic Rezillos. But The B-52’s cast longer shadows. 1982’s beguiling, bizarre ‘Mesapotamia’ is included here (“I know I need excavation…”). I wish they’d also included ‘Give Me Back My Man’ and ‘Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland’ to illustrate the point further that The B-52’s weren’t all about fish-obsessed lyrics and cheesy rhythms. There was always something of Talking Heads’ existential absurdism about them.

After the tragic death of guitarist Ricky Wilson in 1985, of AIDS, The B-52’s receded for three years, re-emerging and ironically hitting pay-dirt with ‘Love Shack’. This perfect anthem for eccentric whiteys who can’t dance to wig out to was a deserved success, even if by their own standards it was pretty standard. Still, they managed to match their fellow Athenians, R.E.M., chord for chord on ‘Roam’. ‘Good Stuff’, a well-intentioned but ill-advised foray into overtly political lyrics, followed – then came the rather unfortunate theme to The Flintstones. I wish they hadn’t volunteered to be thus tagged as cartoon, but I suppose when they wave a brontosaurus-sized cheque in front of you…

Two new tracks, their first since 1992 and written with Cindy Wilson (now back on board), are included here – ‘Debbie’, a tribute to Ms Harry, and ‘Hallucinating Pluto’, both about as good as you’d expect from the 1998 B-52’s.

Still, this overdue reappraisal begs the question – where are their like today and what planet are they hiding on?

© David StubbsUncut, August 1998

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