The Good: Fun music, Weird and very different, Some impressive vocals, "Love Shack"
The Bad: Very predictable rhymes, Impossible to take seriously
The Basics: Inarguably creative and original, the six truly amazing tracks cannot balance the other twelve songs that are weird for the sake of being weird.
I was driving somewhere on a long trip last year and as I was driving, it occurred to me as the first licks of the song began to play on the radio, I've never heard a decent a cappella version of The B-52's song "Love Shack." It's a classic song and I've heard (good and bad) versions of most every other song from my young adulthood covered by male and female a cappella groups. But never "Love Shack." So, I turned the song up louder and I came to understand why. "Love Shack" is one of the most complex songs ever created by American musicians. It would be almost impossible to create an a cappella version of "Love Shack" and not make it sound stark as there are no less than four layers of sound at any moment in the song. That's pretty impressive.
My half-assed obsession with hearing an a cappella version of the song led me to Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation, a compilation of eighteen singles from The B-52's. Prior to this mix, I had only heard "Love Shack," "Roam," and the eccentric "Rock Lobster." Having heard what might well be the "best of" the B-52's, I'm unsure if I will seek out more of their works.
With eighteen tracks clocking in at 77 minutes, this is certainly a c.d. that holds its value, but the music on the disc is somewhat hit or miss. That is to say that the style of the B-52's, a new wave pop sound is something of a "love it or hate it" type thing and varies a lot from track to track. Moreover, most of the songs do not raise the bar as far as musical or lyrical sophistication. There are two exceptions to this.
"Love Shack," musically, is a classic. The heavy drums, direct and articulate lead vocals from singer Fred Schneider and a memorable theme and keyboards make this song one of the most hypnotic and intriguing songs The B-52's - or any other pop artist - has ever produced. Whoever's idea it was to add the crowd noise as an additional layer of sound had an excellent ear as this song is an example of just how wonderfully a song can be mixed. The women's voices - singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson - are perfectly tuned and this song is musically an obvious and worthy smash.
The problem, musically, is other songs sound like it. "Deadbeat Club" opens with drums that sound like "Love Shack," and problematically precede that song on this album. The vocals on it sound like those on "Roam." Similarly, "Rock Lobster" and "Is That You Mo-Dean?" bear some disturbing resemblances to one another musically. So while the B-52's have the ability to be musically big and impressive, too often they are limited by their own sound (more on that in a moment).
Lyrically, the band raises the bar with the the song "Mesopotamia." Who would ever have conceived of a pop song about the history of the ancient society of Mesopotamia? And yet, on the track "Mesopotamia," the group sings "(We're goin' down to meet) I ain't no student / (Feel those vibrations) of ancient culture / (I know a neat excavation) Before I talk / I should read a book / But there's one thing I do know / There's a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia / Six or eight thousand years ago / They laid down the law." It's weird, it's quirky and it's fun.
The problem is, not all of their musical and lyrical experiments are so interesting or successful. "Time Capsule" presents the somewhat witless "Quiche Lorraine," which has terrible lines like ". . . at the end of my 40 foot leash / Is my little friend Quiche. / Quiche La Poodle is her name / And having a good time on a crummy day is our game." Predictable rhymes plague many of The B-52's songs, with that song having other lame rhymes like Dane/lane, lake/cake, me/see and rhyming words with themselves (insane, arf, yea!).
And sometimes, The B-52's are just too weird for their own good. While I like the quirky "Rock Lobster" with its beach party story and pointless "this is a song about seeing a lobster on the beach" attitude, "Is That You Mo-Dean?" might just be too eccentric, even for me (and I like They Might Be Giants's early works, check out my review of Then: The Early Years, reviewed here!). On "Is That You Mo-Dean?" the group sings "On the bus, to the plane / To the UFO and to outer space baby . . . / Is that you Mo-Dean? / It's me Mo-Dean / The interdimensional outer space being."
It still surprises me that the groovy follow up to "Love Shack" and "Roam," the insinuative drug track "Good Stuff" did not recapture the group's success, especially hearing it on Time Capsule. It's one of their stronger tracks.
The B-52's are a pure pop band. They don't put up the pretense of being serious or presenting rock and roll or being anything other than quirky and different. But because of how out there they are, with songs that are basically drums, keyboards, and guitars, they sometimes are too esoteric. Ultimately, I think they might be just too weird for me. But it's probably great for those who would relisten to pop and new wave music with an appetite. For me, it's a once-in-a-while treat.
I'm not saying "Love Shack" is the best song in American History, but it's one of the best and it is a great pop track on this very sugary album. I was not fond of "Quiche Lorraine."
For other quirky music, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Fire - Electric Six
God Shuffled His Feet - The Crash Test Dummies
Goog News For People Who Like Bad News - Modest Moust
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the music I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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