CD Review of Funplex by The B-52s
Recommended if you like
Tom Tom Club, Was (Not Was), Talking Heads
Label
Astralwerks
The B-52s: Funplex

Reviewed by David Medsker

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W
hen the B-52s dropped Cosmic Thing in June 1989, the majority of the initial buzz centered on the extraordinary amount of time that had lapsed since the band’s previous album, Bouncing off the Satellites, and whether the B-52s would be able to adapt to the radically different musical climate. It’s a hilarious notion today, considering that Bouncing off the Satellites came out in September 1986. Not even three years had passed between releases, but back then, when the album release cycle averaged around 18 months, three years out of the spotlight was an eternity, and many considered the B-52s’ goose to be cooked on sight.

The album, of course, was a smash, and the label was surely clamoring for a follow-up the moment “Love Shack” cracked the Top 20. But they would have to wait another three years before the band, now minus singer Cindy Wilson, would oblige. The resulting album, Good Stuff, was a shallow attempt to recreate Cosmic Thing, even down to splitting production duties between Don Was and Nile Rodgers. Try as it may to mimic Cosmic Thing’s calculated zaniness, the songs, for lack of a better word, sucked. Well, the singles sucked, anyway; “Revolution Earth” and “Dreamland” are two of the band’s most adventurous works to date, but since the album was front-loaded with stinkers like “Tell It Like It T-I-Is” and “Hot Pants Explosion,” few people lasted long enough to hear Good Stuff’s good stuff.

The B-52s

With Wilson back in tow, the B-52s are finally set to release Funplex, their first album since Good Stuff. If three years between albums once seemed an eternity, consider this: anyone who was born on the day that Good Stuff was released is now nearly old enough to drive. That is a disappearance of Terrence Malick proportions, unheard of in the world of pop. No one normally survives that kind of absence, but luckily for the B-52s, they’re not a typical pop band. Their mainstream success was a fluke, not a divine right, and they appear to have learned from their mistakes on Good Stuff (not to mention their appearance as the BC-52s in “The Flintstones”). Funplex is more traditional B-52s, for lack of a better word, with a surprisingly strong libido. It is neither their best nor their worst album, but it rights the band’s ship better than anyone had a right to expect.

Steve Osbourne was an inspired choice as producer, given his ability to incorporate electronic elements into conventional rock bands. (He apparently got the job based on his work on New Order’s Get Ready, and rightly so.) Along with giving the album instant indie credibility by his name alone, he wisely scales down the grand arrangements of Cosmic Thing and Good Stuff, making the band self-sufficient once again. “Juliet of the Spirits” is similar in style to Wild Planet’s “Dirty Back Road,” and the piano bit in the break recalls Osbourne’s work on New Order’s “Crystal.” “Ultraviolet” is downright randy, with Fred Schneider yelling, “There’s a rest stop, let’s hit the G spot!” So much for honeybuns and pineapples.

Ah, but the libido doesn’t stop there. “Ultraviolet” boasts much more than the G-spot line (“Keep doing what you’re doing ‘cause it’s what I like!”), the dreamy “Eyes Wide Open” repeats the line “Love my thing, so good it’s bad,” and then there is “Love in the Year 3000,” in which Schneider monotones “Robot, bootybot, erotobot,” and later sings about space love at zero gravity. With its drum track provided solely by machine, it feels like a track from the Whammy sessions that was cut for its lasciviousness. The following song plays its horny hand in the title: “Deviant Ingredient.” There isn’t a member of this band younger than 51 (Wilson), so personal results to the band’s newly overt sexuality may vary. Still, you have to love Schneider’s raw enthusiasm; the man sells it better than anyone, and after spending Good Stuff in low gear, he seems re-energized here.

The songwriting isn’t quite back to Cosmic Thing levels, but on the plus side they’re not opening a song by singing “Doing it right, day and night” four times in a row, either. Funplex isn’t going to vault the B-52s back into the upper echelons of the charts, but that isn’t its purpose; the band is merely trying to prove that they still have something to offer, and on that front, Funplex is a grand success. With any luck, though, they’ll make a more concerted effort to keep it in their pants next time around.

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