Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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B-52's

  • The B-52's [Warner Bros., 1979] A
  • Wild Planet [Warner Bros., 1980] B+
  • Party Mix [Warner Bros., 1981] A-
  • Mesopotamia [Warner Bros., 1982] A-
  • Whammy! [Warner Bros., 1983] A-
  • Bouncing Off the Satellites [Warner Bros., 1986] B+
  • Cosmic Thing [Reprise, 1989] B
  • Good Stuff [Reprise, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation [Warner Bros., 1998] A
  • Funplex [Astralwerks, 2008] A-
  • With the Wild Crowd! [Eagle, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The B-52's [Warner Bros., 1979]
Fond as I am of the pop junk they recycle--with love and panache, like the closet ecologists they are--there's something parochially suburban about turning it into the language of a world view. So I'm more delighted with their rhythms, which show off their Georgia roots by adapting the innovations of early funk (a decade late, just like the Stones and Chicago blues) to an endlessly danceable forcebeat format. Also delightful is their commitment to sexual integration--Cindy Wilson is singing more and more, although her voice occasionally gives out before her ambitions do. Major worry: only one of the copyright 1979 songs--my favorite track, "Dance This Mess Around"--is as amazing as the 1978 stuff. A

Wild Planet [Warner Bros., 1980]
I keep waiting for number two to come through on the dance floor the way the debut did, but "Party out of Bounds" and "Quiche Lorraine" are expert entertainments at best and the wacko parochialism of "Private Idaho" is a positive annoyance. Only on "Devil in My Car" and "Give Me Back My Man" do they exploit the potential for meaning--cosmic and emotional, respectively--that accrues to the world's greatest new-wave kiddie-novelty disco-punk band. B+

Party Mix [Warner Bros., 1981]
Six remixes, three from album two on side one and vice versa. Its implicit equation of party and disco offends old new-wavers, but at EP list for half an hour's music the extravagance is recommended. Hyped sound doesn't hurt this music, the stretches revolve around breaks or sound effects silly enough to belong, and two of the remakes are condensations. Fess up--wouldn't you love to own a "Dance This Mess Around" that begins "I'm not no limburger"? A-

Mesopotamia [Warner Bros., 1982]
For a while I was afraid they were going to get encrusted in their own snot, but they really are an ordinary dance band from Athens, Georgia, which turns out to be no ordinary thing. David Byrne isn't the secret, just the secret ingredient--one more semipopulist with his own bag of tricks, like fellow ingredient Ralph Carney except his bag's bigger. A "party" record that never invokes that pooped word, this six-cut mini lists for $5.98, as good a deal as onion dip. A-

Whammy! [Warner Bros., 1983]
Though they still pick up some great ideas at interplanetary garage sales, their celebration of the pop mess-around is getting earthier. "Whammy Kiss" and "Butterbean" do actually concern sex and food, respectively, while "Legal Tender" and "Queen of Las Vegas" show off a healthy respect for money--that is, a disrespectful attraction to its alluring usefulness. "Song for a Future Generation" is a completely affectionate, completely undeluded look at the doomed, hopeful, cheerfully insincere dreams and schemes of the kids who dance to B-52's songs. And the Yoko Ono tribute is for real. A-

Bouncing Off the Satellites [Warner Bros., 1986]
Sorry, but my fond belief in Kate & Cindy as postmodern girl duo has just gone the way of my fond hopes for Joan and Chrissie as rock and roll future. Except for the postfeminist "Housework," they contribute watercolors posing as Kenny Scharfs--not only don't "Summer of Love" and "She Brakes for Rainbows" redeem anybody's '60s retro, they don't even take off on it. So Fred's abrasive camp saves the day, and talk about satiric justice--he gets off a credible nudist anthem, a credible psychedelic fantasy, and (get this) a credible ecology song in the process. B+

Cosmic Thing [Reprise, 1989]
AIDS having robbed them of their most essential musician, this is an almost touchingly brave attempt to dance away from the edge of ecocatastrophe. Earthquakes, tidal waves, bushfires, waste dumps, toxic fog, maybe even that Chrysler big as a whale are counterposed to and in theory renewed by positive natural forces--junebugs, spaceships, cosmic vibes, an expanding universe, poor rebellious kids having innocent fun. They're trying to be seriously silly, and they're right to believe serious silliness is a healer. But between Ricky Wilson's guitar and the permanent defeat his loss doesn't merely signify, they can't quite bring it off. It's enough to make a grown man cry. B

Good Stuff [Reprise, 1992]
"Is That You Mo-Dean?"; "Hot Pants" Choice Cuts

Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation [Warner Bros., 1998]
The B-52's I bonded with at Max's and CBGB were an art band who epitomized the lost bohemian ideal of camp as love--embodied it so fully that after unspeakable adversity they became the thing they took off on and from. But while I could cavil about edgier song choices and '90s shortfall and their firstest was their bestest, I know that their chosen legacy honors the band that belongs to the ages and the masses--the pop band that still launches keg parties on Myrtle Beach and sells khakis at the Gap. From "Private Idaho" to "Good Stuff," songs I've never cared for are pure fun here. So are songs I've always adored. And the main thing wrong with the two new ones is that they're not fit to shine the spaceship of 1992's visionary "Is That You Mo-Dean?" Personal to all tailgaters: the debut's really cool. Er, hot. What you said. A

Funplex [Astralwerks, 2008]
"Pump." "Hot Corner." "Deviant Ingredient." In an unseemly display of decaying flesh, these nutty kids turned DOR nostalgia act make their first album in 16 years their sex album. Eeyew, say today's normal kids. 'Bout time, says anybody old enough to know that one lure of the flesh is that it's always decaying. A-

With the Wild Crowd! [Eagle, 2011]
In which Fred Schneider, of all people, proves himself new wave's premier vocal muscleman--a not-quite-swish 59-year-old cartoon powering the resurgent arena-pop of his 34-year-old band in Athens GA's 2500-capacity Classic Center. Kate and Cindy have also been working out since the combo unleashed their best album in 25 years in 2008. Nor is their first in-concert album undercut by the nine tracks it shares with their best-of or the five it shares with their comeback, because it's bigger than either. The still tacky, no longer little dance band always wanted to be vulgar but were too arty to take it all the way. Now they have, and it suits them. As so rarely happens with live recordings, they've never sounded more alive. A-

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