Review Summary: An emotional album marred by dated production
Bouncing Off The Satellites is probably the hardest to listen to B-52’s album, but it’s nonetheless fascinating, occasionally brilliant, and unlike anything else the band ever did. On prior albums, The B’s had always struck a good balance between guitars and synthesizers. With guitarist Ricky Wilson dying of AIDS, and access to a then cutting-edge sampling keyboard called the Fairlight CMI, Bouncing Off The Satellites pushes the balance way in favor of synthesizers, including, most regrettably, synthesized drums. It’s a “dated” sounding record for sure, but on most songs, the human emotion is still able to come through.
Ricky had not told anyone in the band of his illness other than Keith Strickland, who would eventually replace him on guitar. When Ricky abruptly died midway through the studio sessions, it was up to Keith to finish the album, since the other three members - particularly Ricky's sister, Cindy - were devastated, and did not think it would be possible to continue without Ricky. Consequently, Bouncing Off The Satellites features several guest musicians.
One of the album’s most interesting songs is “Juicy Jungle,” which had been saved from Fred Schneider’s solo career. Uptempo, punky, and railing against deforestation, this song has uncharacteristically heavy guitars for The B-52’s, performed by John Coté of Fred’s band, The Shake Society. From Kate Pierson’s aborted solo project also comes the feminist anthem “Housework,” which has Kate’s then boyfriend Tim Rollins playing guitar. Although this song has a funky Caribbean breakdown, it's one of the lowlights of the album, in my opinion, along with the plodding “Detour Thru Your Mind.”
If there’s any song which makes Bouncing Off The Satellites a fruitful record, it’s “Ain’t It A Shame,” which was later recorded as a dirge by Sinead O’Connor. This Cindy Wilson piece was meant to be a spoof of country music, with lyrics about a “Chevy duster” and “brand new trailer,” but ends up being extraordinarily melancholy, with U2-esque guitars, haunting harmonica, and otherworldly steel drum samples from the Fairlight. The song had nothing to do with Ricky's illness, but feels like his swan song, as he performs backing vocals during the chorus.
“Summer Of Love,” “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland,” “She Brakes For Rainbows,” and especially “Wig” are the sort of upbeat, cheerful songs The B-52’s were known for. Fans of The B-52’s older sound may also enjoy the song “Communicate,” as it’s the only song which utilizes Ricky’s trademark guitar style. Because of the mechanical production, and death of Ricky, however, the whole affair ends up being more depressing than uplifting. The B-52's never toured in support of this album, other than some TV appearances in England, and faced an uncertain future until regrouping for Cosmic Thing in 1989.