Review Summary: 6060-842, and they're waiting for you.
When bands get mega hits their back catalogue immediately falls under one of two categories. Either it seems to be critically reappraised and lauded over for the first time like it was brand new music in and of itself, or, sometimes the more tragic occurrence happens whereby it seems to be forgotten, lost in a new torrent of music which engulfs it and overcomes it. While of course, some bands that have hits don't have previous albums, some just have appalling albums hidden away in their past.
In many ways both could be said for the B-52's, a band that will be forever known for their huge hit single in 1989, Love Shack. And yeah, it is a great song, off an even greater album, but it is to all intents and purposes a very late single for the B-52's, their debut album being released ten years prior to Love Shack.
In many ways, 1979 was crying out for a band like the B-52's. Smart, punchy punk music you could dance to, with a bizarre and warped sense of humour thrown in for good measure. The post-punk movement of the time the other side of the Atlantic was more of a dour and heavier scene, and the arrival of the B-52's, possessing their credentials would have fared well even if their music and songs weren't simply as catchy and memorable as they are.
And they really are, every track on this album is a memorable one, with only Cyndi Lauper's 'She's So Unusual' being on par for sheer fun and dance-ability. The album kicks off with the whacked out sci-fi epic Planet Claire, a song about an alien living on Earth by the name of Claire. Lead singer Fred Schneider describes in detail her home planet, where the bizarre aliens somehow manage to have 'pink hair', yet 'no-one has a head'. Hilarious lyrics that don't take themselves seriously and really fantastically deliberate sci-fi sounds which lend themselves more to hilariously camp T.V. shows from the 60's and B-Movies from that generation make this track an immediate standout.
Next is 52 Girls and Dance This Mess Around, both tracks which focus heavily on Keith Strickland's pummeling yet never overpowering punchy new-wave drumming. The former is a song about girls of all sorts, presumably beautiful (of which only 25 girls are named), set to one of the most ridiculous and camp new-wave tracks ever, the latter is a similar affair which deals exclusively with juggling around the need to know every kind of dance there is to stay cool, however ridiculously named they are; "do the hipp-o-crite, do the shy tuna, do the camel walk".
Next is Rock Lobster, a song which for me will always have the wonderful claim (along with Bird is the Word by the Trashmen) of rising above Family Guy's idiotic need to make a fad of it. The song is what it is, a ridiculous ditty about the band taking a trip to the beach, only to find a rock that looks like a lobster. The song sounds so stupid when laid out this way, but it truly is the sum of it's parts, a glorious camp vocal from Schneider struts around a rock'n'roll riff, with Strickland's trademark restraint providing the rhythm for the track, with wonderfully stupid and deliberately dorky backing vocals that serve to make the incident seem like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. The song is a perfect one to sum up the B-52's, catchy, camp, ridiculous throughout, but seeming to be deadly serious, it sets the bar high for the album, which the band happily answer the call to.
Lava, There's a Moon in the Sky and Hero Worship are the album's sturdy backbone, strong new-wave flavours and upbeat twangy guitar combine with more wonderful female vocals to provide a cheesey B-Movie soundtrack, that instead of being unremarkable, manages to somehow transcend the culture that spawned it. The B-52's are fun, whacky, but they really do make some amazing songs. Lava is a groovy ode to how funky a lava erruption could (but probably wouldn't) be, There's a Moon is a song presumably about how an idiot or a child has suddenly discovered the moon, named it a moon, and found out it's already called the moon, while Hero Worship is perhaps the weakest track on the album, it does have a more relaxed funkier feel, which serves solely to let off some steam from the fairly quickened pace of the album
The last two tracks, 6060-842 and Downtown round up the album in the way that has been maintained throughout, fun, enjoyable, and really well executed. 6060-842 is a track about lead singer Fred Schneider finding a phone number in a toilet advertising a 'very nice time - give this number a call' and ringing it, all to be extremely downhearted to find that 'get no, answer at all', all of which culminates in poor Fred's number getting disconnected - DANG. Downtown is a cover, which the B-52's seem bizarrely to make their own, instead of it being the ultimate good time tune, the band somehow manage to turn the ode to boozing and women into some kind of jerky call to arms for everyone who might not be as cool as the mainstream think they are.
The B-52's first album works on so many levels, but none more than it's multi-layered nature. It rewards a listener on first listen simply by being so catchy, fun and infectiously for all of it's 39 minutes. But for repeated listeners it begins to unravel into a hugely complex tapestry which just about manages to poke fun at every aspect of American culture, from it's obsession to beaches, international policy, obsession with aliens and the unknown, and the popular culture heroes it spawns. It may seem fickle and one dimensional at times but the B-52's have deliberately crafted an album based around all of their collective experiences being tied up in the middle of America, it is in itself one of the most truly inventive and 'American' albums ever, insofar as that it manages to combine every bit of culture the world has to offer, and trim it down into an easily digestible and fun concept that any and everyone can enjoy at any time. And they're waiting for you.