Review Summary: I ain't foolin' gimme a refuelin'
I could write this entire review about the title track. It's almost a laboratory experiment on how to make the perfect pop song. Catchy, uptempo, a little wacky, and great groovy bass lines.
It's always weird when the title track is the best/worst song in a record. Why put so much emphasis on one song? I always think it sets up the album in a strange way. I'm waiting for the title track to kind of inform me on where their heads were at when making a record. Fortunately I think they made a great choice in naming the album Whammy!
The song is that good! The first time I heard it I think I almost died. When the chorus first hits, a low keyboard does a simple D# G# D G progression as a synthesized string note swells up and up and up. This chorus makes the entire album. It plays over and over but doesn't get old for some reason. It hypnotizes you as overlapping vocals bounce around you ears.
The album could be that song 9 times in a row and it would be fine. However, there are a slew of great songs in this record. Opener "Legal Tender" is a perfect way to get you ready for the "beefs" new sound. A warm keyboard plays over a programmed drum beat as beautiful female vocals of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sing about making counterfeit money. Lyrically this is one of the bands most interesting, which is really saying something. The imagery is perfect as they describe storing money in jelly jars and walking to the bank with cash as fresh as grass.
The only truly bad song on the record comes right after the title track. It was also the only song off the record to make it to their greatest hits. Go figure. Although it has a pretty atmosphere with the guitar and keys creating a nice landscape, the lyrics and vocals drag it down very fast.
The band changed up their sound a lot on this record. They were known for their surf/new wave/post-punk style and gained a lot of success performing this way. This time around it's all drum machine and keyboards. There is guitar but it mostly plays rhythm chords with a few melodic inflections to keep things interesting. Personally I think this experiment works wonderfully for the band. It seems like most of the songs were started with an uptempo drum machine beat, and then they added instruments over the beat. The benefit of this songwriting style is all of the songs have a certain danceable quality to them.
The B-52's have always been a dance band but this is a new beast entirely. Songs like "Butterbean" would sound completely different if played with live instruments. I admire the band for trying something new and I'm glad the experiment works so well. On "Big Bird" the band has a horn section that sounds like a dancehall jungle. It's one of the stronger cuts on the record with the vocalists describing a big, menacing bird flying over their house, terrorizing them.
A lot of the album is darker than most tunes the band committed themselves too. While others are more light-hearted than anything previous. Some ideas they had tried before are more thought out and refined than before. The congas on "Big Bird" add to overall sound a lot more than say "Planet Claire." The low keyboard lines are much more effective now. The guitar is even more minimalist than before.
Although the closer, "Work That Skirt," is a weak way to end the album, it isn't necessarily bad. As the only instrumental song it is a nice break from all the overlapping vocals by Schneider, Wilson, and Pierson. I personally think this is their strongest and most consistent record. They really benefited from homogenizing their sound. Gone are all the genre shifts between songs. Producer Steven Stanley created an effective sound for the band to really shine. Most people will think this was a major drop in quality but to me this is them really taking their craft seriously. If you wanna skip the record as least listen to "Whammy Kiss" on repeat a few times.