Famed dance party act The B-52s retro back to the future on their first new album in sixteen years, Funplex. No one who lived through the first Bush administration doesn’t have The B-52’s seared somewhere in the back of their mind, from the beehives on singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson to gay icon Fred Schneider’s patented talk-singing. Now, after a long hiatus of greatest hits compilations and tours, The B-52s take their future-past sound into the twenty-first century.
The Athens, Georgia band burst onto the scene in the eighties (alongside fellow Athenites R.E.M.) with “My Own Private Idaho”, only to go into seclusion following the 1985 death of guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy’s brother). But they eventually regrouped, with drummer Keith Strickland taking up lead guitar, and they hit the big-time with 1989’s Cosmic Thing (including the ubiquitous “Love Shack”). Cindy Wilson left, and 1992’s more pseudo-political Good Stuff failed to match Cosmic’s heights, with the rest of the nineties left to compilations and soundtracks (charting with their version of The Flintstones theme song for the live-action movie). Wilson rejoined in 2000, seeing the band touring more and more, which inspired the group to make some new material. Things went slow, thanks to all the band members living in different parts of the country, not to mention shopping the record around to get the best deal on intellectual property rights, but with Funplex, The B-52s are back (albeit minus an apostrophe).
The most notable change seems to be the further electronica additions, especially in the louder, more pressing beats. Opener “Pump” is just that, pumping (reminiscent of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Same Old Innocence” – or is it the other way around?). Things get pressing on “Ultraviolet”, but the strongest beat is reserved for the final two tracks, “Dancing Now” and “Keep This Party Going”. “Dancing” marries an indietronic press to melody, while “Party” just gets bigger and bigger.
Other pieces play more like The B-52’s of old, such as the catchy title track single (though it lacks some of the fun-weird of classic B-52’s). “Love in the Year 3000” also harkens back, but with more of a ‘dance thump’. Meanwhile, “Deviant Ingredient” slows things up like Cosmic’s “Deadbeat Club”, kind of a drive off into the sunset. The B-52s are able to relax the tempo when they want to, such as with the almost rockabilly in it’s fun “Hot Corner”, or the subdued dancetronica of “Eyes Wide Open”.
Now on Astralwerks (Air, LCD Soundsystem, VHS or Beta), the band has definitely borrowed from their new label’s electronic style, but otherwise hewed pretty close to their legacy. Wilson and Pierson still harmonize, Strickland still marries fifties guitar to dance beats, and Schneider still has one of the most memorable voices in music. There’s also the kind of variety one gets from The B-52s if you don’t just stick to their singles. While no, this won’t match Cosmic Thing, there’s still much fun to be had in the Funplex.