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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The B-52s

The B-52s

Review by Gary Hill

When the B-52s first came out they got lumped into punk rock. That label doesn’t really fit them – although there’s some punk in the mix on this debut set. Frankly, progressive rock (at least in the terms of music that progresses) is more appropriate, but again not a solid fit. The truth is, The B-52’s were arguably one of the most unique bands to ever hit the scene. Their sound merged dance music with surf, science fiction soundtracks and all kinds of other things and added quirky lyrics to create a unique and entertaining musical collage. This is fun – and yet challenging. It’s also a great album that still holds up quite well.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Planet Claire
The sounds a satellite blipping open the album like the start of a science fiction movie. Then the retro music comes in feeling like an old spy show. There are more satellite blips built into it. It works out to science fiction movie inspired stuff. They shift to the song proper from that segment. This is part punk, part science fiction and all cool. The lyrics are suitably goofy. It's really the perfect way to start the set.
52 Girls
The first B-52’s song (at least if you consider the sequence of the disc) to feature the female vocals, there’s less of that science fiction presence here and I really think the singing here is especially noteworthy. It’s another strong piece of music that holds as much charm today as it did at the time it was released.
Dance This Mess Around
In some ways this song is not all that different from the one that came before. On the other hand there’s a more stripped down element to the early portions of it and when it powers out (mostly through the vocals) it has all that much more urgency and power. There’s also some great back and forth on the male and female vocals.
Rock Lobster
This surf based romp was the first song most people heard from The B-52’s. It’s got much the same combination of sounds as “Planet Claire,” but there are female vocals on this and the retro organ and surf sounds really add a new dimension. This is without question deservedly one of the band’s best known tracks. It’s pretty hard to think of this song and not imagine the beach. It has some of the coolest guitar work and most inspired jamming of the whole set.
Lava
In some ways this is a more mainstream number with a more pure rock sound. The back and forth male and female vocals and a few other elements, though, bring this one into more unique territory.  I’d have to say that it’s one of the tracks that’s less than a standout, though. 
There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)
A stronger piece, this is perhaps closer to “Planet Claire”. The quirky title (especially the parenthetical part) earns this bonus points – as do a lot of the lyrics.
Hero Worship
I’m not really all that crazy about this one. It’s got some definite weirdness and quirkiness going on and I sort of like the punk angst, but it’s a bit too strange for me at times. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I would skip this track, but it and “Downtown” are probably the two weakest pieces here.
6060-842
A step back up, this is another classic track. I really like the lyrics of the track. There’s also a cool chiming guitar bit and some other touches that elevate this beyond a lot of the album.
Downtown
Here the band cover a classic song. Frankly, I think their version isn’t bad, but it’s just a little pedestrian compared to the rest of the music here. It’s probably the weakest number on show.
 
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