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The B-52s - Post-Nostalgia Pop

Author: Cyclone
Thursday, 24 April 2008
3D’s Cyclone heads down the Atlanta highway (metaphorically, of course) to talk to Fred Schneider of the B-52s to talk about Funplex, their, ahem, comeback record.

Every music fan loves a ‘where are they now-’ story. However, The B-52s aren’t prepared to be reduced to a curious entry in pop’s history books just yet. The New Wavers, always larger than life, have staged a convincing comeback with the op art Funplex.

Their timing couldn’t be better. Contemporary pop culture, with the exception of a Gnarls Barkley, is profoundly lacking in flamboyant eccentricity, while The B-52s’ punk-funk, indie-bop and kitsch pop is again in vogue. (They owe that to DFA.)

Still, according to frontman Fred Schneider, The B-52s recorded their seventh album not to prove anything, but because, having gigged “steadily” for the past decade, they needed fresh songs to perform. Even Schneider had wearied of Quiche Lorraine. “I like doing it, but I don’t wanna do it every night,” he confesses tactfully.

Ironically, for a group born out of nostalgia, The B-52s are reluctant to trade on it. The party freaks came together in the college town of Athens, Georgia, back in 1976 with vocalists Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, Cindy’s older brother Ricky on guitar, and drummer Keith Strickland. They revelled in Americana, their sound a punky mash-up of surf pop, garage rock and R&B. The “cartoon band” generated an underground momentum with Rock Lobster, setting them up for their eponymous debut, which also encapsulated Planet Claire.

The B-52s soon transcended their novelty status, but were perceived as a cult act for much of the ’80s. They savoured an early commercial breakthrough here in Australia. The collective almost fragmented when, before Bouncing Off the Satellites dropped, Ricky succumbed to AIDS. But, on regrouping, and with Strickland switching to guitar, The B-52s exploded into the stratosphere. Love Shack was their biggest hit.

The B-52s wound down in the ’90s. Cindy, seeking time out to raise a family, was missing on 1992’s Good Stuff. They wouldn’t yield another original album for 16 years.

The B-52s have long been exalted in an unlikely quarter. They’re routinely cited as an influence on Detroit’s techno movement and, it follows, the wider spectrum of dance music. The B-52s were adopted by black audiences in the Mid-West, as with Kraftwerk.

With Funplex, The B-52s are, in a sense, taking cues from those they inspired. They hired producer Steve Osborne, Strickland admiring his work on New Order’s Get Ready. Yet Osborne is also a cohort of UK dance pioneer Paul Oakenfold. He’s given The B-52s an electronica edge.

Nevertheless, Funplex won’t frighten devotees of Love Shack or, for that matter, Rock Lobster.

“I think it’s the logical follow-up to everything,” Schneider says. “It’s still ‘us’. It has our signature vocals and guitar work. We liked the electronics that Keith brought into it – and also our producer added a lot of sonic seasoning. It’s my favourite album now.”

WHO: The B52s
WHAT: Funplex through Astralwerks/EMI
WHEN: Out now