Some say she’s from Mars
Or one of the seven stars
That shine after 3:30 in the morning
Well, she isn’t
The B-52s certainly carved their niche early and when I say carved a niche, I mean it literally. They didn’t occupy a space that was already there. They created a space for themselves. Certainly, there was nothing quite like them before or since. A real amalgam of retro fashions, toy instruments, ludicrous hairstyles and even more ludicrous vocal stylings made sure that the presentation was unique. So too was the music itself.
This is clear from their opening salvo, Planet Claire, which begins with about two minutes of what seems to be Peter Gunn meets Star Trek, complete with wordless vocals from Cindy and Kate. By the time Schneider actually comes in on the first verse, you know this isn’t typical music by a stretch. And it isn’t.
Listening to this music is like listening to several different albums thrown through a blender; there are moments of surf rock, of spy music, sci-fi music and occasionally, as on the ending to the epic Rock Lobster, something you’d call an aria if you didn’t think people would laugh at you. And it works. Consistently minor keyed but with hilariously off the wall lyrics and titles (There’s a Moon in the Sky Called the Moon, for instance), the music strikes a consistent attitude of paradox.
But the energy is what really counts and what keeps this from tipping into pure camp. 52 Girls is straight ahead rock and roll and both Dance This Mess Around and Rock Lobster are pure adrenaline to the brain. The moment where the singer belts out “Hippy-hippy-hippy-hippy-hippy-hippy-shake” is a moment of pure joy for sure. And the final moments of Rock Lobster, as Schneider goes through a litany of sea creatures, complete with wacky sound effects from the back up singers (culminating in an absolutely ear splitting scream), while the band swaggers through the pounding riff that is surely one of the catchiest riffs ever . . . well, this is, finally and really, music that you can honestly say you have never heard before.
Occasionally, you might be able to get something from the lyrics as on the dark Hero Worship or the humorous 6060-842, which reimagines the essential tragedy of life in the simple struggle of getting through to a number scrawled on a bathroom wall. But this isn’t music with a lot of hidden meaning. It’s just strange, compelling, immediately gripping music that works on its own terms.
That’s about as apt as it gets, I think; the fusion of styles, the bizarre sing/shout vocals, the almost unrecognizable cover of Downtown, the toy organ mingling with the high vocals of the female singers . . . this is crazy stuff, but it’s crazy stuff that is both incredibly enjoyable and incredibly energizing. I’ve long argued that self-conscious art is often flawed. And it is, most of the time, but this is one example of when it isn’t. The B-52s are consciously working at creating bizarre, iconoclastic music and it works with pure charm, wit and energy. Without those things, all the experimentation in the world would be just that: clinical and dry experimentation. But the energy and the passion are there, justifying the experimentation every step of the way.
Mind-blowing, genre bending, music stretching to the breaking point, pushed over bizarre into ‘totally crazy.’ Funny, funky and fun; essential.
5 out of 5 stars.