Only time can heel wounds. The death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from AIDS in 1985 seemed like a complete paradox for the bubbly and effeminate B-52s. In the wake of Wilson's death, The B-52s released Bouncing Off the Satellites
, an album that felt misguided. In an attempt to advance their sound, they lost their spontaneous free-spirited nature. Bouncing Off the Satellites
felt lost in space without a tour guide, never quite keying in on what it sought out to do.
Yet after three years, The B-52s decided to give music making one more shot. The B-52s were one of the most unpredictable bands of the period, releasing quirky titled songs such as There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)
and Rock Lobster
. Their sound was much like their image, a basket full of wild fruit. An infectious campy sound was their signature. Yet until Cosmic Thing
, The B-52s were more new-wave than pop. Unlike the rather unfocused Bouncing Off the Satellites
, Cosmic Thing
showed a more unified plan. Cosmic Thing
was an all out attack on the pop world, combining a wild uninhibited sound with a more contemporary pop production.
One area where The B-52s have benefited from the generic styling of pop music, is the length of each song. A rather unattractive trait of the Ricky Wilson-era B-52s was extending out their songs too long, opting for an unrushed and free motion. This creative and quirky approach to music writing may have been enjoyable, but Cosmic Thing
and its slick focused formula also has an irresistible sound. The average song length is 4 minutes and 45 seconds long for Cosmic Thing
. Normally this would be an irrelevant statistic, but when the songs have such a small range of values, it does begin to raise eyebrows. However in this reviewers opinion, the unoriginal and unvaried formula has helped Cosmic Thing
separate itself from its predecessors, without losing that irresistible B-52s fruity flair.
was used as a teaser for Cosmic Thing
and provides a nice little segue from the old to the new. The vocal trio of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson work nicely, contrasting Schneider's almost comical spoken word with Pierson and Wilson's inseparable harmony. Despite a rather unique and varied vocal melody, Pierson and Wilson hit every note in unison as if they were identical twins. The together as one approach is also used in Topaz
effectively. The subtle difference between the two female voices creates a compelling superposition of sound waves. The experience of the band pays off, with Wilson and Pierson almost coming together as one. Instead of sounding like two strong female voices, Wilson and Pierson often sound like one incredibly intricate voice.
The producers of Cosmic Thing
have obviously keyed in on this addictive sound, having utilised it in several songs such as Cosmic Thing, Dry Country, Channel Z, Deadbeat Club, Love Shack, Junebug, Roam, Bushfire. There they go with that formula again, only taking a break with the instrumental Follow Your Bliss
. The overall repetition of sound, formula and design can tend to wear thin if the album is analysed too closely. But like a hillbilly marrying outside the family, this type of focused listening goes against the grain. Cosmic Thing
had its purpose set from the start, and can only really be criticized when people completely neglect the purpose of the album. Cosmic Thing
, Love Shack
all summarise what The B-52s are all about. Their playful nature is allowed to run wild, flashing the homophobic hicks glaring from afar. It is Fred Schneider's blatantly queer vocals that make the songs truly addictive. Cosmic Thing
is probably Schneider's most varied vocal performance, straying away from the monotone speech to an experimental flaunting of quirkiness. The guitar work that appears in songs like Junebug
and Cosmic Thing
is not as deft and unique as the Ricky Wilson era songs. This is overcome with a massive amount of lively little sounds, like the tweeting birds and tweeting bird-like keyboard melody found in Junebug
. With such a large amount of moving parts, the party songs can get quite hectic at times, yet never overbearing.
It wouldn't be proper to raise the subject of guitar work without mentioning Roam
. As the theme song for Subaru cars and featuring in a number of other productions; Roam
is instantly recognizable. The main guitar riff is impeccable, being nicely complimented by a funky little beat; whilst Cindy Wilson's vocals roll over the hills in tune and on time with the guitar. When looked at closely, Roam
doesn't really belong on the album, yet its unmatched pulling power makes it a can't miss song.
Yet the award for most surprising song does not go to Roam
, but rather Deadbeat Club
. Having been around for a decade, it was appropriate for The B-52s to reflect a bit. Deadbeat Club
is a rather somber reflection on their past. The emotion is quite genuine, and provides a nice break from the gallons of caffeine-fueled flaunting. Deadbeat Club
feels rather dated, with its typical 80s/early 90s pop styling shining through. It does however still offer a nice contrast with the rest of the album.
Although their image may be one of B-Grade movie stars, The B-52s are far from cringe-worthy. Their sound can be compared to a playful platypus, somewhat foreign to the masses, yet formulaic in its approach to damn-building. Almost every song is built using the same pattern, but if listened to the way it is meant to be, the repetition of sounds and style will not bother the listener too much. The B-52s sound of old is still there in all its new-wave glory, but has been coated with a glossy pop coating. Fans of their older material may be put off by what could be considered as restrictions on The B-52s uninhibited nature. Yet this is still the same band, just made accessible to an audience of millions. Despite their rather playful nature, it is clear that a lot of reflection has been done between Ricky Wilson's death and Cosmic Thing
. Thankfully this reflection has done a lot of good, and has helped The B-52s refine their strengths (especially the three-pronged vocal attack) down to an unwritten art form, like the recipe for the Krabby Patty. Much like their creations, SpongeBob Squarepants and The B-52s could be considered metaphors for each other. They're the free-spirited, blatantly camp, exuberant people of the world that many cynical critics like to bring down. This reviewer however is more than happy to dance the night away in the Love Shack
, as it's the only way to truly appreciate Cosmic Thing