The B52’s – The B52’s

B52s - The B52s
Ain’t no party like an art school party.

The centre label on this record says PLAY LOUD. I appreciate the direction, but my 15-month old daughter is sleeping with the door open for the first time in her short but adorable life because her room was painted this morning and we don’t want to impose a huffing habit on her quite this young. Better we just chip away at her self-esteem and become emotionally unavailable and let her come to that decision “on her own.”

I got this album when I worked at Goodwill. I picked it up because I knew and liked “Rock Lobster.” Worth the 50 cents (or less? Hard to tell with the Goodwill records from when I worked there, if you know what I mean) to dig a little deeper. Despite that being the intent I’m not really familiar with this record and haven’t listened to it since the ’90s for sure. Probably only spun it once since I don’t recognize any of these other songs as mix tape favourites from back in the day.

The album opens with a Spy Hunter Peter Gunn riff. The vamp goes on a little long before the vocal comes in. Plays like something that would be effective in a live club setting that should have been cut down on record. Who produced this? Chris Blackwell? Or did he just take a producer credit on everything Island put out? I could probably look this up fairly easily. (Editor’s note: Album came out on Warner, not Island). Well it’s either Blackwell or Robert Ash, who has an Associate Producer and Engineer credit. Either way, you were both in the room, Chris and Rob, and somebody should have spoken up. Bands don’t know this stuff their first go around.

The sound for this album is jangly new wave garage music. Dance music for art school students. The organ heavy garage elements make me think of Nardwuar and his band The Evaporators (my friend Owen, who introduced me to Nardwuar—as an entity, not in person—in high school had an Evaporators 8-track that he loaned me because I was the only other teenager in the world who could play an 8-track in 1994. My parents just never got rid of their player).

The way the singer screams “why don’t you dance with me” on “Dance This Mess Around” reminds me of Kim Gordon. Funny how the wall dressing can make all the difference between outsider weirdo art music and accepted party dance music. This ironic land of 1000 dances is fantastic. “They do all sixteen dances!!”

“Rock Lobster” is about as fun a song as I can think of. Such great, danceable simplicity. Great organ part. I’ve always been drawn to where Kate Pierson leaves out the short chord stabs even more than where she plays them. One-two-three-four, one-two-rest-rest over the main riff through the verse. I also dig her “variations on a theme” approach to her part in the chorus (is that the chorus?).

There’s a song called “There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon).” I don’t really have anything to say about this song other than that I think that title is really funny.

I was just going to say that I like it best when the female sings, but a) I don’t know this band well enough to know which female is singing when I hear it, and b) it’s not entirely true, but I do really like her growly groaning and yelping. Maybe I think it’s best when that rockabilly growl is counterpointed with Fred Schneider’s dry interjections. I guess what I’m saying is the band works best together? Great point, Mike.

Early B52’s concerts must have been so fun and dorky. One thing that’s struck me as I’ve gotten older and the slightest bit smarter is that my generation walked around like we invented fucking irony in the ’90s, but the older I get the more I understand that there’s been irony in music for as long as there’s been ideas about music. When Mike Watt sang “the kids of today must defend themselves against the ’70s” I accepted it at face value because I was a teen and it made me feel a part of something better than what came before. Now, in 2016, I feel this sentiment so fiercely (kids of today must defend themselves), but against the ’90s. What a cocky, boring cesspool that decade was. Or maybe I’m projecting self loathing onto a decade? Who knows. This record isn’t from the ’90s anyway so why don’t I just stop this rant.

“Downtown!” Ironic covers: another thing not invented in the ’90s (I’m looking at you, 1,000 Mona Lisas). I was at the AGO Outsiders exhibit of American photography and film today and Nan Goldin used the original “Downtown” in an ironic way in her slideshow piece “The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency” by counterpointing it with her warts-and-all portraits of her punk junkie friends. It feels like this cover is trying to convey the same idea, where the draw and appeal of downtown is still genuine, but the wide-eyed, bright lights, big city, aw shucks square outsider perspective is eschewed for a reality where, if you live downtown you don’t go there to escape your troubles, that’s where they live…along with your love, your laughter, your fear, your sex…your life. It’s funny that I term the narrator of the song “Downtown” as an outsider when the exhibit I’m referring to using it ironically is called Outsiders. I guess the narrator I see as an outsider to a place, while Nan Goldin saw herself as documenting and representing people who were outsiders from their society.


Tangentially related: When it first came out I hated “Love Shack.” I just want to say here publicly that I was very wrong about “Love Shack.” “Love Shack” is a phenomenal song. There’s no shortage of examples of this phenomenon throughout my life.


Favourite Song: Rock Lobster

Deep Cut: Dance This Mess Around


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