Sunday, May 31, 2009

The B-52's - The B-52's (1979)

The B-52's - The B-52's (1979)

I hate to borrow a line from Monty Python, especially such an overdone one, but it definitely applies to this album. And now for something completely different, The B-52's debut self-titled album (what's with bands self-titling their debut albums?) is a cosmic journey through the 80's sonic masterminds that are the B-52's. Don't be fooled by the album's 1979 release date, this has 80's written all over it and I mean that as a good thing.

Fred Schneider's recognizable (and often-imitated) vocals begin the album with somewhat dated "Planet Claire." The band's crunchy guitar makes a strong impression here that will be one of their recurring motifs, about a girl who just seems like she's from another planet (I hear dat!). Despite what has now become some outdated references, very Bowie-ian singings of being from Mars, it works well and establishes everything right away. Follow-up song "52 Girls" showcases Kate Pierson's singing style, and is probably the most punk the album ever will get (or the band for that matter).

Some of the songs have a nice free-form to them, a call and response if you will, that I'm already assuming the band is going to lose down the line. What may sound like runoff from the 1960's flower power generation of music actually works here, providing a nice counterpoint to the more pop songs on the album, the ones that will gain more replay value on consecutive listens, more layers and moods than the more simple songs (See "Dance This Mess Around,""Hero Worship," etc.). One can definitely tell where modern female-lead rock bands get their influences from (I'm looking at you Karen O.), but just a lot of modern bands in general. The sound is easily-imitated, to the point that it's the very reason why The B-52's have gone away, but on their debut the cheesiness of it actually gives it more personality, like a time capsule from another era. "6060-842" might be eclipsed only by "837-5309" for becoming a memorable telephone number titled song, whatever the hell that genre is, but the song just falls apart here and doesn't really flow well with the rest of the album and may be the only true misstep on the whole album. Closer and cover "Downtown" actually works well to the band's sound, not only sounding like an apt cover for the band but their interpretation is fun in almost a karaoke-way but just sidesteps the comparison to becoming their own unique take on the song through more of the screaming ironically and stripped-down version of the song than just replicating the melody.

Then there's the immortal "Rock Lobster." I'm biased right away. My earliest memories of this song are one of my co-workers from Taco Bell playing it all the freakin' time when closing, I think he either had this album or some mix B-52's, but either way I've heard it a thousand times. And yet in the context of the album it actually works quite well. The bubblegum pop of the song hasn't caused it to age much, but instead has become an icon on the album, the synonymous B-52's track (lets not count "Love Shack" and save the trouble). I enjoy how Schneider takes the main line of the song and makes it go from a statement ("Rock Lobster!") and turns it into a panicky fear ("Rock Lobster?!"). It's a fun song. There, I said it. You win Richard.

Standout Track: "Dance This Mess Around"
Final Score: 8.0/10

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