Mesopotamia review by The B-52's

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  • Released: Jan 27, 1982
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 7.5 (2 votes)
The B-52's: Mesopotamia
2

Sound — 8
This is actually an incomplete EP produced by the Talking HeadsDavid Byrne that apparently was an "abandon ship" situation. This is where they really started to take on the full early 1980's influence. Again, we have Cindy, Kate, and M.C. Wackyman Fred Schenider out front, with Kate Pierce tickling the plastic imitation ivories, Ricky Wilson back again on with whack-o-matic tuned surf guitars, and maybe some synth as well, and Keith Strickland on drums. So that much has not changed. 

For those who are just tuning in, here's a rundown of singers and musicians, and equipment... 

Cindy Wilson - Sister to guitarist and founding member Ricky Wilson, she tends to have more of a rough/sultry approach to vocals with a bit of raspiness, her range seems to have gotten lower on this album a little bit which gives her a little more force/oomph to the vocals and she's lost a bit of that teenage innocence in her voice. She also plays bongos and a few other small instruments. This would be the last album Cindy would appear as a Brunette.

Kate Pierce - Keyboardist & vocalist, Kate has more of the smoother, higher voice. It was around this time she started being the "redhead" - maybe a little before during the previous album. So we can see the more well known B-52's image is taking shape.

Fred Schneider - If you've ever heard a B-52's song, and wondered who that wingnut is yelling all the crazy one liners - Fred is the guy. He typically wears suits, hops around playing his music parts on little toys (like a miniature piano, and what looked like a heathkit noise maker, as well as tubular bells on the previous album).

Again, they often switch off and run different combinations of vocals.

Ricky Wilson - Ricky Wilson is that wobbling fellow in the background with guitars that are missing strings and somehow managing to sound like two guys at once. He does this by tuning his guitars in courses of lower two-three strings (i.e. DAD or CF), skipping one or two of the middle strings, and tuning the upper two, usually in unison, for playing leads at the same time. By this point it seems Ricky found favor in Mosrite Guitars, in particular, a Ventures, and a Ventures II/Mark V/Gospel, one black, one blue (the one off the back of the first album), though he also plays a '50s Telecaster with a '60s neck on it (or vice versa), a Danelectro Formula 1, Epiphone Coronet, a Fender Stratocaster sometimes (I think it's the black one Keith Strickland is still using), and somewhere between here and the next album, a Guild Thunderbird of some odd early '80s vintage. He sounds like he's using a Fender Twin Reverb and maybe an overdrive pedal and chorus from time to time. 

Lastly is drummer Keith Strickland with timing precision of a clock and seems to also be a fan of wacky hats. He and Ricky were good friends and were the beginning of the band.

This EP marks a major shift in sound, they started using a horn section on tour, making more elaborate use of synth, and vocals. It's sort of a prototype of 1983's "Whammy!" album, which will be up next. Things are far more wacky in that 1980's "Pee Wee Herman" show fashion almost, avant-garde '50s feel with a 1980's sound. 

Ricky tones down the guitars, taking on more of a "funkmeister" role on this album, and there's a lot more tech on it. There was supposedly a struggle between the band and the producer over the direction of the album. Strangely, I will give this an 8, I feel like this is one of those third album "weird" moments like Panorama, where your average feel-good listener might not get it, but a musician (such as myself) can really appreciate the direction, especially in headphones. Seems The B-52's were really going for a soundscape here rather than the raw retro-avant-garde new wave of the previous two albums, bordering on a class of their own, or what I think they described themselves as - free form jazz party rock, or something along those lines.

Lyrics — 7
Again, this is The B-52's, and this album is the same thing, don't expect some big elaborate manifesto about socio economic distraught written under disguise as a song about cake, but rather, expect some good straightforward lyrics that can get multiple interpretations. 

01. "Loveland" - This sounds like The B-52's have gone late '70s/early '80s Soul Train funk, or Prince almost. This song is pretty straightforward, it's about making love, and the power of love in general. This is the first time The B-52's really venture into a huge amount of synths, setting the tone for the next album. 

02. "Deep Sleep" - Elaborate synths, rather fitting name, very sleepy sounding, and the lyrics, what little there are, seem to have themes of two lovers being able to connect through their dream states, taking those dreams and morphing into what's happening in reality. This track has a bit of an Egyptian-meets-India flare to it, one of two tracks with this. It's a bit scary, could The B-52's be losing their ability to be fun and wacky... This is also only one of two songs to be exclusively Kate's lead vocal - the other is "Housework" off a later album.

03. "Mesopotamia" - Ah here we go, the wackiness is back, with Professor Fred McWacky interjecting about our subliminal history lesson. This song has a bit of the Prince/Soul Train vibe of Loveland. Fred's interjections are a tad more dull than usual here though, mostly just him stating the obvious while Kate sings about meeting someone by the 3rd pyramid in Mesopotamia

04. "Cake" - Back to the bedroom euphemisms, and the wackiness is creeping back in, complete with fitting bubbly music, complete with a back and fourth mid-song breakdown commentary on how to bake a cake with all the spice of a lounge striptease. Sounds like Ricky is starting to use a Stratocaster at this point though he mostly just plays the same chord the whole time. Also, this debuts the "Horn Section," whom went on tour with The B-52's from this tour onward through the "Whammy!" tour. 

05. "Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can" - After an 8-bit Nintendo-like introduction, Ricky Wilson gives us the most screwed up guitar tone I've ever heard, it sounds like a PolyChorus on helium, or Ricky is going through a bit-crusher distortion! Fred takes center stage here in a song that is finally up there with "Rock Lobster" and the other wacky tunes they are known for, and it has some of the craziest horn playing which sounds like a mangled synthesizer, or what a whole horn section puking would sound like. The whole song revolves around a party driving the neighbors nuts and telling the guy in it to do what the song's title says. 

06. "Nip It in the Bud" - Sounds like Ricky is back up to his one guy doing the job of two guitarists, and possibly the second meanest guitar sound he has had on any album, nice grit. Sounds like the song is about a messy breakup where Cindy gets locked out of the house.

Everyone seems either to have stayed the same, though Cindy seems to have gained a few extra things, she has a little more grit without losing control of her voice like on previous albums. I'll give it a seven though, because the one thing I love about the early B-52's is their propensity towards wackiness, but "Nip" and "Beat" both almost make up for the initial lack of that. I wonder what else they were cooking up for this album.

Overall Impression — 7
This is when The B-52's became full blown new wave, leaving behind the "surf" roots for the 100% wacky angular '80s approach. Their sound here is bordering on Berlin's "Information" album and The Cars "Panorama" by sound variety and tone, but seems closer to The Cars "Shake It Up" in depth and the lack of reverb present on the other two albums before. 

The standouts to me on this one are "Cake," "Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can" and "Nip It in the Bud," the first few are a bit light unless I'm in that sort of mood. 

Nothing I hate, just not nearly as wild or crazy as the first two albums, and sort of hints where their next full release, 1983's "Whammy!," would be going. Overall, it's a 7, a little short, a bit sleepy at first, but it wakes up about halfway through and has some good tunes, and the production is pretty good as well. 

Stolen, lost, whatevever, the cloud is my friend.

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