2008 is a return to musical glory for Athens, GA. With REM’s 14th release of Accelerate and Widespread Panic’s 10th album Free Somehow, Athens is already receiving quite a bit of attention these days. To put the cherry on the top of the Southern Peach cake, musical allies The B-52s have released their first album, Funplex, since 1992’s Good Stuff. This marks a return for the band, musically and spiritually as well, as this is the first album since Cosmic Thing (where that little song called “Love Shack” came from) that all the original members have appeared on.
Overall, Funplex is a departure from their earlier efforts, but it still contains elements that make it feel right at home. Fred Schneider’s trademark monotone singing (or Sprechstimme for you music majors) is snappier and much more sexual sounding and Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson’s vocal harmonies haven’t sounded better. This album overall represents a major breakthrough for guitarist Keith Strickland, as all of the songs are his compositions directly influenced from New Order’s 2001 offering, Get Ready. So much so, that the band hired producer Stephen Osborne to cut this slice of southern comfort.
Two things that are noticeably different than any other B-52s’ release to date are all within the sound. The production value captures the band in a raw setting, but polished just enough to where it appeals to many different people. The other major change is that Strickland dives headfirst into the electronica pool and comes to the surface with a handful of gems.
The first song “Pump” contains elements from their very first record back in 1979.There’s the funky trademark guitar, Schneider’s manic if not hilarious, monotonous (though witty) banter, intertwined between Piersen’s and Wilson’s clear-cut harmonies.Sound-wise, “Pump” channels the band’s highly upbeat, praying-for-the-party-to-never-end mentality that made “Love Shack” such a classic American dance tune.
Following this trend, the next few cuts, “Hot Corner” and the ever-so-sexy “Ultraviolet” continue Strickland’s determined musical march with excellent results. Hands down, Schneider steals the show on “Ultraviolet” with his trademark croon: “Four miles to a breakdown/Anybody wanna leave town/There’s a rest stop/Let’s hit the G-spot/Lovin’ it… Lovin’ it…” It doesn’t get better than that. For a band that hasn’t released any new music (save for two cuts on their greatest hits collection Time Capsule), the Athens quartet have outdone themselves.
As the title suggests, this is indeed a fun album to bob heads to, but there is much more to it than that.Sexual dance numbers(“Deviant Ingredient,” “Love In The Year 3000” and “Eyes Wide Open”) come nicely packaged, yet political activism comes out of left field, like the album closer, “Keep This Party Going”, which is more than just a battle cry for a rockin’ good time but a declaration to the White House, as well.Who says you can’t be political and have a good time all at once?
Yes, The B-52s are at it again. It’s a rare feeling when a great band hasn’t released an album in quite some time. It’s even better when that said album sees daylight and is better than expected. Funplex proves itself as a prime example of that and the Georgia quartet deserve it. Welcome back, party mongers!