25 May 2008

traxxography #1 :: the b-52's

My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts for these last few weeks. I've been collecting some new ideas for this blog. I plan to write different kinds of posts from now on, while continuing with my original intention to review specific tracks. This new feature, Traxxography, is one in which I will rate & review a band's entire discography. My only criterion is that the group have completed at least three studio albums.

The subject of my pilot post for this new type of entry will be one of my all-time favorite groups: The B-52's. I saw them in concert a few weeks back, and they were absolutely phenomenal. I consider them to be one of the most influential artists of modern music, so it is with a very humble nature that I approach this review of their discography.

NOTE: When I do a Traxxography post, the albums are rated purely on my personal feelings about how the album performs as a collective entity. It's not based on any sort of commercial success or critical acclaim. I don't rely on anyone's opinions but my own. ;-)

  1. Good Stuff (1992)
    This album ranks lowest on my list because it's the only LP that they did without Cindy Wilson. You can't have the B-52's without Cindy! They just weren't complete, and I think her creativity was missed on this record. Other than "Good Stuff," there really wasn't any single potential, and even it was too darn long to make a good song for radio airplay. It's totally effective as a party song, though, which is certainly what they're all about.
    "Bad Influence" is also a surprisingly good track, which is probably why it was chosen as the b-side to the aforementioned "Good Stuff." That track really allows Kate Pierson's powerful voice to have a few moments of glory.
    Altogether, the album just seems kind of slow and way too low key for everything that I'm used to about The B-52's. I consider it their career's lull, and considering it was followed by 16 years of silence before we got another album out of them, a lot of people probably agree with me.

    Favorite Traxx: "Good Stuff," "Bad Influence"

  2. Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)
    This album produced what may be my favorite B-52's song of all time, "Summer Of Love," but it just falls short of being a solid album. I can't even really think of anything to write about it, other than I think it's worth owning for two reasons: 1.) It contains "Summer Of Love." 2.) It's an album by The B-52's.

    Favorite Traxx: "Summer Of Love"

  3. Mesopotamia (1982)
    I think the group was tapping into extra weirdness on this little EP. When I saw them, they surprised me by performing the title track as a member of their set. It's on this record that you'll hear them begin to transition from their surf-rock new wave sound to their louder, more in-your-face loud party rock sound that still carries them to this day.

    Favorite Traxx: "Mesopotamia"

  4. Wild Planet (1980)
    When you mention The B-52's in conversation, most people (those who aren't fanatics like myself, anyway) seem to remember them as "that 'Love Shack' band" or "that 'Rock Lobster' band." To someone like me, those represent the two major eras of The B-52's career. Wild Planet falls into the former.
    It's a very effective follow-up to their smashing and innovative self-titled debut, but as a whole in kinda ends up being more of the same stuff. In their case, though, that's (mostly) a good thing. This album contains a couple of classics that are still recognizable today by folks outside their fan base. The rest of the songs sound appropriate for a long drive on a hot desert road. A couple are almost eerie harbingers of The Raveonettes' distinctive sound.
    "Strobe Light" is one of this group's all-time greatest songs. It does appear to be at least mildly well known, and it's extremely deserving of all its new-wave street cred. Songs like that are what made new wave rock the entity that it became by 1981. What's amusing to me is that I don't believe that they set out to pioneer new wave music at all! They just wanted to write awesome party songs like "Strobe Light," and their influence ended up stretching farther than their expectations reached.
    Cindy's vocals on "Give Me Back My Man" will absolutely knock you on your ass. She owns that song, and it's a rare shining moment for her, almost to the level of her iconic "Tin roof, rusted!" in a famous track from a later album.

    Favorite Traxx: "Private Idaho," "Give Me Back My Man," "Strobe Light," "Quiche Lorraine," "Party Out Of Bounds"

  5. Funplex (2008)
    They showed the world that they've still got it. This LP starts off with a kick and ends on an equally high note. It left me with nothing but a giant smile on my face and the entire title track stuck in my head.
    I'm asking you kindly to buy this album from your music source of choice, because I think they deserve to sell millions upon thousands of copies of it. The fact that, thirty years after their debut, they can still turn out an album like this is absolutely wonderful! They might be the hardest-working party band of all time.

    Favorite Traxx: "Funplex," "Pump," "Juliet Of The Spirits"

  6. The B-52's (1979)
    Their legendary first album. Imagine being a kid in high school in 1979 and seeing this record on a shelf at the record store. You were bound to see it thanks to its tasty sunshine-yellow cover. Imagine being drawn to it and seeing those five cosmonoids on the front of it. Wouldn't you have bought it?
    Now imagine taking it home and putting it on your turntable. Would you have known what to do when you heard it?
    This album established the band's style, which still remains with them today. It was with this record that they invented and made cool that sort of retro, pastel, angular style that's cool for pool parties where you grill out with friends and watch television on one of those rounded-screen floor-model TV sets.
    "Rock Lobster" is obviously one of the most important songs in music history, and c'mon, you know you have a classic place in pop culture when you've been referenced on Family Guy. Anyone who has unwisely doubted that Kate Pierson is one of the greatest singers of all time should listen to her impersonation of a sea creature as she sings the word "lobster" during the bridge of the song, and they'll quickly be turned around. This track will be known for generations to come.
    "Planet Claire" is a great way to start this record. It was their introduction to the world, and they immediately established their cosmic presence with the first of many of their songs on the subject of space life and interplanetary travel. When they performed this live, Fred actually brought out a two-way radio or scanner of some sort and used the Call button to make the beeping noise during the first part of the song.

    Favorite Traxx: "Rock Lobster," "Planet Claire," "Dance This Mess Around"

  7. Party Mix! (1981)
    I debated whether or not to include Party Mix! on this list because it's an EP, much like Mesopotamia. Furthermore, it contains material that appeared on other albums. However, I chose to include it because it is indeed part of their discography, and it's a nice selection of songs. I'm not doing a "Favorite Traxx" section on this number because I like all of them too much to pick favorites!
    Incidentally, this was released on a CD with the tracks from Mesopotamia by Warner Bros./Reprise in 1991, and it's pretty easy to find. It's a great mix of a lot of their early songs.

  8. Cosmic Thing (1989)
    By far, this is their most well-known album. It contains "Love Shack," their infamous karaoke bar hit that's not at all indicative of their sound. While a great pop rock song and definitely a great party song, it's just not really them. It is fitting, though, that this song is seen as a party anthem, because partying is what these characters are all about. Their repertoire extends far beyond this, though, and it's a shame that a lot of bar patrons in the world won't ever realize that.
    "Deadbeat Club" is another of my all-time favorite B-52's song. It's youthful, carefree, and shining. Works for driving around with the top down or sweating on a barroom dancefloor as a jukebox plays.
    A rare moment in their discography appears on the track "Roam." It's a beautiful song, and I didn't notice the first several times I heard it that Fred is nowhere to be found. This one is all Kate & Cindy, and they own it hard. It was cool enough to make it into Rock Band!
    This record was their most successful, and probably deservedly so. They achieved party group superstardom thanks to it. Many artists are stuck with a one-album image to the public. This may be the case here, but luckily for The B-52's, this is a really solid record. It's not a bad memory to have stuck in people's minds.

    Favorite Traxx: "Deadbeat Club," "Roam," "Love Shack," "Channel Z," "Cosmic Thing," "Follow Your Bliss"

  9. Whammy! (1983)
    Their most solid album. It's a party from start to finish! From the beginning, with a song about making counterfeit money in your basement, to the skirt-smashing closer, and a random song about butter beans in the middle somewhere, this album is just fantastic for a night of partying, barbecuing, and dancing with close friends. It represents, to me, everything that this band is about.
    It's definitely a transitional album, which may be another reason that I like it. It has elements of their "Rock Lobster" sound, while very obviously moving forward into a more electronic new-wave sound, headed toward that Cosmic Thing in the sky that would allow them to achieve fame.
    "Song For A Future Generation" may be the most important song they've ever written. When I listen to it, I try to imagine kids 100 years from now hearing that song, and thinking about what people were like during this time. I trust The B-52's and that song to give them a proper image, don't you?

    Favorite Traxx: "Song For A Future Generation," "Legal Tender," "Whammy Kiss," "Butterbean"

That's it for my first-ever Traxxography! Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Expect more new stuff soon!


Anonymous said...

Interesting write up on one of my favorite bands. I think FUNPLEX stands easily alongside their best work. In fact, aside from WILD PLANET, it's their most consistent effort to date.

I totally agree with your take on GOOD STUFF. As far as I'm concerned, it's not even the B's.

They should have called themselves The Flower Power Three!