Gourd: Oh no. She said "ATM machine". She must die.
Me: Now, now... if they must die, there are much better reasons like the many boring songs on their new album.
Gourd: I'm very sorry to hear that. The Metro Weekly gave the record a glowing review... :(
Me: Perhaps they were burning the disk when they wrote it?
This was the same day I had acquired the limited edition album, with bonus disc of classic live tracks, at Target. At the time of my purchase, I had a gnawing fear that the bonus disc would be the better of the two, though I would never have spoken the words. Anyway, I had listened to the disc but once at the time of the above exchange, so my judgment was decidedly premature. I will say that this latest collection of tunes by the B-52s is not their best, but... Okay, stop.
I'm a major B's fan, have been for about twenty-five years having discovered "Legal Tender" in regular rotation on MTV when they used to play music videos. It wasn't long until I was torturing my parents with "Rock Lobster" and pondering the lyrics of "Dance This Mess Around." I've been with them through Ricky's death, the monster success of Cosmic Thing, a Cindy-less Good Stuff, and umpteen years of silence (save two stellar new tunes on an anthology in the '90s). Anticipation is the surest way to screw up your expectations, and after waiting so long for a full-length album, I was surely expecting... hmmm...
That's a good question. What was I expecting? They're all older now; heck, even Keith is starting to age finally. But who isn't? I know they're older, but I immediately mistook this for being tired. Funplex, after multiple listens, is decidedly not tired. It's full-on energy from beginning to end. Well, almost. The final track "Keep This Party Going" might as well have been called "Party 'til You Puke," because by the time that last track rolls around, Fred, Cindy and Kate all sound like they're ready to take a break, for cryin' out loud. It would have been a much braver choice to end with "Dancing Now," about surviving a relationship that crashed and burned and then having the person return for attempted reconciliation:
I finally broke through
Before I broke down
I was no fool
You messed around
I didn't fall for anything
I landed on my feet
Perhaps it's a bit out of character for our B's and a bit banal. But somehow, it's a declaration of powerful proportions with Fred's comic growl and the girls' glowing harmonies. All three are featured on every track except "Juliet of the Spirits," a climbing, ethereal anthem perfect for Kate and Cindy, who sound no different after all this time. Heck, they could be singing the Star Spangled Banner and it would still sound amazing!
"Pump" opens the album and announces from the beginning that Ricky's spirit is still alive and well in the B-52s; he travels directly from the guitar into the amp whenever Keith plays. But at the same time, producer Steve Osborne clutters up the background with tons of bass and guitar noise; sometimes it might as well be a Motley Crue album, honestly. I respect Osborne; he produced one of my all-time favorite albums, Lost Souls by Doves. But he doesn't seem to get it, "it" being what the B's are about. It's always been about Fred and the Girls as a collective unit. Osborne acts almost as if he had plucked the band off some stage in a NYC club and gave them a record contract without really understanding their chemistry and rhetoric.
Meanwhile, while Steve is screwing up over there, the B-52s just don't show their wit for word they've always displayed. Heck, even Good Stuff gave us "Hot Pants Explosion"! At the Funplex, life is a party, and if it's not about the party itself, it's about getting ready for the party, getting over the party, or getting over someone you met at the party. "Too Much to Think About" is exactly that - we're in love and I'm freaked! Meanwhile, over on "Deviant Ingredient," Kate croons wistfully about the pros and cons of drinking:
Neon scene on Martini Mile
Pink Lady with a blue smile
Show me your and I'll show you mine
Oh man it's love this time
I imagine that after years of touring, royalties and endorsements, as well as all their charity work for HIV/AIDS and other causes, the B-52s have congealed into a bit of a stereotype: the ultimate party band. And that's the contradiction: none of the other albums by the B's was really a party album; they were albums that evolved into parties. Funplex, on the other hand, is a party in a small plastic box from the get-go. Still, with a catalog of original tunes like "Love Shack," "Strobe Light," and "Planet Claire," this is one party worth the price of admission. (As someone who saw them perform not that long ago, I can vouch for their live gigs, also.) The tunes of Funplex just add more variety to their set list, and the party (as well as the band) lives on.
* Don't gimme no crap about that—grammatically, it's correct. Also, interesting factoid: apparently, after almost 30 years of being The B-52's, the band dropped the apostrophe with this current album. The artwork and web site are all apostrophe-free.