Sound — 8
Now for something completely different - the Athens Georgia quintet - The B-52's. I will only be reviewing their pre-"Love Shack" era albums as I feel they kind of dropped the ball after Ricky Wilson passed away. This is their first album, and it's sort of an awesome punk-surf-new-wave merger that sounds like nothing else.
On vocals, you have the lovely Cindy (Wilson) and Kate Pierson, and the lovably goofey Fred Schneider as the default M.C./wacky-man to Kate and Cindy's generally more serious approach. This is key to their sounds, this sort of "girls vs. guys" thing taken from '60s rock culture and brought into the late '70s/early '80s by this band.
The three vocalists play off of each other sound-wise:
Kate - the cleaner, more technically adept one with the smoother voice. She also plays keyboard. Kate does not really showcase on this album much at all, Cindy and Fred do most of the really up-front work, but on "Lava," Kate comes out from the background. She also plays synthesizer and plays all the bass lines on the synth. Her voice is the very smooth sounding one.
Cindy - she's a bit more trashy and punk, and has a bit more sultry-ness to her voice, she throws off some pretty good one-liners too, sort of a middle ground between ultra-wacky Fred and the far more serious Kate. She sings lead on "Dance This Mess Around" and "Hero Worship," and "Downtown." At times she's sort of like a female Kurt Cobain, mangling the tonality to project a mood, and at other times, picks this almost bubbly blonde Bebe Buell type quality (i.e. "Lava").
Fred - he's the campy, M.C. not-really-singer singer (he does sing sometimes though) with all the hilarious one-liners and flamboyant delivery. He's the total polar opposite of the more sultry-vocal-advances put fourth by Cindy and Kate - sort of like the band's comedian. Fred leads on most of the tracks - particularly "Planet Claire," "Rock Lobster," "6060-842," "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)."
Then there's the rhythm section, one half of Kate's keyboard (or in this case, Farfisa Organ), Ricky Wilson on guitar, and keith strickland on drums. Sometimes Kate dons a guitar as well (52 Girls).
Cindy's bro Ricky who plays oddly strung Telecasters, Mosrites (usually a Ventures or a Mark V, the blue Mark V being his most well known guitar), and other vintage pieces tuned all wacky - typically EADxBB, CFxxFF, or DADxxBB. Sounds like Ricky uses a Fender Twin Reverb (or similar amp) with a Spring Reverb or a Fender outboard Reverb. During this album (at least) he does not even know the actual tuning he is in, he just tunes it to something he likes and I guess keeps said guitar in that tuning. He also plays a mean Fire Alarm during the crazy end section of "Rock Lobster."
Keith Strickland's drumming reminds me a bit of the guy from the Skyhooks, there's an odd jazzy quality there with just the right pattern to fit the situation. Overall, I give them an 8, they have a very original sound with that whole surf-meets-Motown-meets-quasi-electric-Devo quality.
Lyrics — 8
The B-52's, honestly, the lyrics this band makes can be a real mind-boggle if you try to read more into them. Some people say they are total nonsense, other people say that there is a deeper meaning below them - I'm going with the latter. Like The Cars, seems the B's don't dictate what their songs mean to people, they just let people create their own meaning and run with it.
"Planet Claire" - On the surface, it sounds like Fred is singing about some lady from an alien world with some earthly appointments (Plymouth Sattelites and trees) - but without heads and pink air. On a deeper level, he could be referring to a "weird person."
"52 Girls" - At the start, it's one of those B's "list songs," something they do a lot, where they run down a list of related things (girls, dances, sea animals, volcano references, forms of idol worship)...but there seems there could be some real significance of women in the news (i.e. Jackie-O could mean Jaqueline Kennedy), or could be they are singing about close friends of theirs.
"Dance This Mess Around" - Another list song, but kicking off with Cindy crooning about lost love, wanting her man back, and screaming "I'm not no lindberger" (smelly person - lindberger is a very smelly cheese, my grandpa had it in his fish freezer), only to get back her self-doubt and go "just a lindberger"... my guess is that this girl is upset that she was just dumped and now is looking down upon the dancing as some kind of retarded social function.
"Rock Lobster" - and as if things could not get wackier, now we have M.C. Fred McWacky singing about lobsters. AT first glance it seems like some guy decided to write the most retarded yet funny song ever, but in actuality, there is a lot of interpretation that could go into the lyrics with each verse meaning something different. Overall, seems like Fred was writing the play-by-play of a party using lobster analogies. Losing earrings in the dip (earlobe fell in the deep), safe sex gone wrong (his air hose broke inside a giant clam), and then using sea animals as analogies for the party goers ending with the "Bikini Whale" - a reference to an obese woman in a bikini. Not particularly nice but nobody can really hear that line anyway.
"Lava" - rumor has it they wrote this reading an encyclopedia about volcanoes to make up the words, but I think it's really an analogy for various bedroom moments. I.e. "let your laval love flow," "keep it at home," etc...
"There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" - Did not pay as much attention to this one but it seems to be space age, or could it be about a "Captain Obvious" moment.
"Hero Worship" - Cindy goes on a ratty vocal rampage on this one, and sings about what's going through one's head when it comes to someone famous you are attracted to, at least, that's what I get from it. Pretty obvious lyrics... just like...
"6060-842" - Again, obvious, it's like a female version of "867-5309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutuone - except this time it's about a lady named Tina (Bob's Burgers?), finding a number on the wall, calling it, and never getting a reply... that and I doubt Tutone would resort to an ending screaming "Your number's been disconnected - Hello - Sorry" over and over. Still funny as heck and Ricky's oddly cool yet seemingly made-up-on-the-spot-campfire-song guitar riff adds to the humor without straying from cool territory.
"Downtown" - actually a cover of another band's song, done in this sort of "this is the end of a crazy album" vibe, very bare bones with just drums and keyboard driving the track and Fred throwing funny interjections behind the vocals.
Overall, they are a party band, but the nice part is you can really take the lyrics rather deep, which happens more on the later albums, but here, it's kind of like a full meal of deep meanings, wacky laughable one-liners and interjections from Fred, and surface level amusement. Plus, the lyrics always fit the music - the B's are a very rhythmic band, so the lyrics have to be right.
Singing skills, again, Kate is the strongest vocally if the least showcased, Cindy has a rough edge and a wide range of voicings from bright bubbly teenage girl to something that could probably cut it in a metal outfit like Halestorm or Kittie, and Fred, of course, is the flamboyant funny-man who randomly sings, sort of a campy, upbeat version of Ric Ocasek.
Overall Impression — 8
This band falls into the "new wave" category fully with the references to kitschy '50s/'60s Americana, mixed with modern themes and modern technology (organs) at the time. The best bands to compare them to are their contemporaries, The Cars, and Devo, both of which have a certain level of wackiness - The Cars more that abstract deadpan wackiness, and Devo more that scary technological intellectual wackiness.
Most impressively, every song is about even, though real standouts to me personally are "Lava," "Planet Claire," "Rock Lobster," "6060-842," and "Dance This Mess Around," they all have sort of an interesting way to interpret the lyrics. Pretty much, I've been hooked on this album lately, and it has lead me onto a real early B-52's kick to the point that I'm studying their guitar player.
Overall, great album, suggest you pick it up if you like total wanton wackiness that also makes great party music without all that stupid techno crap so rampant these days.