Wednesday, April 02, 2008

168. The B-52's: Funplex (2008)

The B-52's are simple and complicated all at once. Their party-all-the-time persona belies a tough, resilient history. The runaway success of 1989's Cosmic Thing album pegged them as a mainstream commercial band, but at heart they are an innovative group with avant garde influences.

And here we have Funplex, their first studio album since 1992's Good Stuff, and the first with the full band since Cosmic Thing. It's one of those comebacks you didn't even know you wanted. Who knew how much we missed the strong melodies and harmonies of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, non sequitur shouting from hype man Fred Schneider, and the garage rock and rhythm of Keith Strickland?

While Funplex isn't a masterpiece, credit has to go to the band simply because it seems more like 16 months than 16 years since we've heard new material from them. The old musical chemistry obviously never went anywhere.

Pump kicks it off, surprisingly distorted and unsurprisingly off-kilter. There's some surf guitar and the whole affair brings to mind the Black Eyed Peas song Pump It. That would be an unpleasant association, until you realize how much better the B-52's are than Will.I.Am and Fergie. And if you really think about it, you realize the band's sound is wholly unique and has never been replicated, save by "Weird Al" Yankovic (on the excellent Mr. Popiel).

Hot Corner is the first high point. With its gleeful allusions to illicit behavior, it's a spiritual successor to Love Shack. On the chorus, the girls state: "I'm looking for some fun, waiting for that bus from Winder to come." Winder is located in the band's native Georgia, and according to the website, is the "city of opportunity."

Juliet Of The Spirits is also strong, an ultra-melodic tune in the vein of Summer Of Love, She Brakes For Rainbows or Roam. Fred Schneider is no doubt integral to the band, but things sure get pretty when he stays quiet for a song.

The title track is an infectiously sad story of a breakup at a mall. Eyes Wide Open is a hypnotic change of pace that takes the torch back from new new wave bands like Franz Ferdinand. The track is saved from monotony by a discoey chorus.

Unfortunately, not everything works. Love In The Year 3000 is tedious, a 4 minute sci-fi fantasy that offers little you couldn't have gotten from simply reading the title. And the band has always been horny, but songs like Ultraviolet and Too Much To Think About take it a little too far with repeated mentions of stroking and g-spots. I'm all for some well-placed entendre, but that's just dirty talk.

Finally, despite the vow to "take this party to the White House lawn" on Keep This Party Goin' On there's nothing on Funplex of any true lyrical weight, a la Channel Z or Revolution Earth. Granted, no one is looking to The B-52's for deep meaning. Afterall, this is a group that wrote a song about a miniature green poodle named Quiche Lorraine. More than likely, the band wanted some fun songs to perform on a summer tour. On that count, mission accomplished. But I would have liked to have seen the facade come down just a little.

Despite the faults of Funplex, the highlights make it well worth a listen. Thus, The B-52's can definitely mark me down to get their next offering, even if it doesn't come out until 2024.

Grade: B
Fave Song: Hot Corner

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