THE B-52's latest album, Wild Planet, lashes out at the unconvinced and forces all within listening distance to start dancing with fresh fervor. With this album, the B-52's lay firm claim to the zany territories that their first album (The B-52's) merely staked out.
In their opening days, much of the B-52's act has been visual, as they try to mask their disjointed live performances with outrageous outfits, wild stage antics, and a jaded, hedonistic style. Timing and musical clarity fused to make their music danceable--simple riff followed simple riff and their lines of action were both easy to follow and easy to latch onto. Crisp, clear, and minimal, it was all a matter of a weird note at the right time.
Soon, their wildness caught on, propelled by the anthemic "Dance This Mess Around" and the irrepressible ridiculous tones of "Rock Lobster," but their spirit still seemed repressed on that first album. Without the visual effects, the bare music sounded too thin and repetitive. They've replaced the loose craziness with a tighter brand of insanity. Refinement supplants disorganization; their energy emanates in a more controlled and direct fashion. They communicate better because their musicianship is more solid. They've matured and they know it. This new confidence and improved ability gives both their live show and their new album the flexibility and sharp energy that the group originally lacked.
Instead of an extended instrumental introduction, Wild Planet's first song, "Party Out of Bounds," is as simple as the average surprise party. They ring the doorbell, yell "Surprise!" and get kicking with a driving rhythm and some quick lyrics. The group no longer needs that lead-in feeler to set you up for the "unusual" elements that characterize their music.
The only slack moment, which isn't even that weak, stems from unoriginality, when the female harmonies on "Dirty Back Road" start sounding like clones those on the first album's "52 Girls." But "Dirty Back Road" has a stronger beat that avoids any trouble spots.
When the harmonies fall away. Wild Planet finally displays Cindy Wilson's voice, which usually lurks in the background. Wilson grabs the spotlight on "Gimme Back My Man" and even shows up Debbie Harry in Harry's nonchalant nasal style. Wilson sings so convincingly that even an absurd lyric like:
I'll give you fish, I'll give you candy.
I'll give you everything I have in my hand.
If you'll give me back my man.
sounds both credible and normal within the context of the song.
Nevertheless, the biting voice of preppie Fred Schneider still cuts through to dominate the vocals. The sarcastic tinge he adds to the lyrics help us realize that the songs do have some message in them--even though a cursory glance at the lyrics leaves one baffled as to their meaning.
Having forged both a musical and a lyrical direction for themselves, the B-52's appear to have potential for further development. The boppers of the eighties will find it refreshing to realize that one of the best party bands around may distinguish themselves as more than just a quick fad.
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