Thursday, August 9, 2012
IN PRAISE OF THE B-52's
So, instead of writing a review of the show, I'm going to write about their 1979 self-titled debut album, which is a classic.
To me, this album is about determination. It doesn't sound like they put a lot of money into it, or that they had a lot of money to put into it. You don't get the impression that Ricky Wilson was playing Fender guitars and Marshall amps. Many of the instruments sound like toys (oftentimes, they are) and the rest of the time, they're using instruments that sound kind of cheap. But that didn't matter: guitarist Ricky Wilson, drummer Keith Strickland and the rest of the band wrote great songs. And really, they wouldn't have sounded right on huge, badass guitars. For all it's limitations, I don't think there would be anything you could do to improve this album. You wouldn't say it's "punk rock," exactly, but it is punk rock in it's determination to be different and have an identity that clearly didn't fit in with the mainstream. There's a version of the Foo Fighters playing "Planet Claire" live with Fred Schneider on vocals, you really hear the punk rock in that version!
Of course, the key was the vocals of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. They were fun and kitschy, but at least on this album, I felt like there was kind of a sense of danger (which I never heard in B-52's songs after this album). The music was '50s or '60s-ish with a big surf music thing going on. Everyone knows "Rock Lobster." I never get tired of it. But there are so many other great songs: "Planet Claire," "52 Girls," "Dance This Mess Around." Even their cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown" was cool. You could have techno DJs or a contemporary pop group or a garage rock band cover this entire album, and it would translate to any of those mediums. How many albums can you say that about?
I don't have many other B-52's albums. Years after this one, Ricky Wilson died from AIDS related illnesses. Miraculously, Keith Strickland got out from behind the drums, became the guitarist and started writing music. Of course that led to their most successful album, 1989's Cosmic Thing, which is a classic. It's their second best album for sure. But for me, nothing touches the first one.