For as long as I've known who they were, I've always considered The B-52's a novelty act. Much of this has to do with the fact that their big hit when I was becoming aware of popular music was "Love Shack," and outside of that, I vaguely knew of "Rock Lobster" from back when I'd listen to WOXY's yearly Modern Rock 500 countdown.
Then I watched the Terri Garr episode from Saturday Night Live's fifth season. The B-52's were the musical guest that night, and my perception of them has been forever changed. Watch:
Their second song of the night, "Dance This Mess Around," was even better. What I realized while watching these performances was that The B-52's weren't--at the beginning anyway--a kitschy novelty act, but a full blown explosion of retro style and punk rock urgency. Having made this realization, I sought out the band's debut LP:
I've been listening to The B-52's self-titled debut album constantly for a week now. The album manages to sound both outrageously bold, and mysterious. In other words, it's a perfect record for gonzo dance parties, but was also wonderfully surreal listening for driving around in a thick-as-balls Stillwater fog two nights ago.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery I've made in listening to The B-52's is how textured and rich a listening experience the album provides. Keep in mind, up until now, I've always regarded the band as one-note pranksters. These textures don't present themselves as layers might in more richly produced albums, but in drastic shifts, often times in the vocals. On a track like "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)," for instance, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson's vocals veer wildly between outerspace wails and bratty, girlgroup chants, while on "Dance This Mess Around," Wilson's vocals swing between an almost Patti Smith sneer and something even punker and more piercing. Adding Fred Schneider's carnival-barker-with-ADHD vocal spasms into the mix only increases each song's energy.
The B-52's is a riveting album because these vocal textures--along with the impressive rhythm section--give the album a surprising energy. The album surges and pulses with a raw rock and roll energy that not many people can even begin to associate with the band's retro shtick.
Maybe, now that SNL's fifth season is available, more people will recognize how great The B-52's were, back before they were just that band that did the "bang bang bang on the door" song that you heard at your cousin's wedding.
As for the present, anyone know if the 2008 comeback album Funplex is worth checking out?