B-52s: Funplex

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B-52s: Funplex

Direct Hit

By: Christine Van Dusen

Admit it—fans of avant-garde pop rock owe a debt of gratitude to The B-52’s. The kitschy songs from their first album still hold up almost 30 years later and would be at home on any lo-fi-loving college DJ’s radio playlist. The early songs may lack finesse, but that’s part of their appeal—it’s raw, fun experimentation that makes you want to bop around like the little girl in A Charlie Brown Christmas. And who can forget the slightly overproduced hits that came later, like party anthem “Love Shack”? Their first album in 16 years aims to achieve a similar blend of the edgy, catchy and commercial. And it does just that with “Eyes Wide Open,” which features a synth loop that sounds like the Magical Musical Thing toy of the ’70s, then blossoms with the bright harmonies of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. “Pump” has that bendy, grindy guitar of old. There’s some cool whipcrack percussion on “Love in the Year 3000,” one of many songs about outer space. Yes, Fred Schneider’s speak-singing sometimes grates. And some lyrics aren’t just weird, they’re annoying. But really, would this be The B-52’s if they’d reigned themselves in? Their wild abandon has always made them great. So here’s a thought: Let’s all just shut up and dance.

Off Target

By: Rick Flintlock

The early B-52’s were a gleeful paisley hiccup in an alternative world sometimes lacking in humor. While their energy was unflagging, some portion of their charm was inevitably novelty, with the quirk that comes from being a sonic outlier. The shame in Funplex, their first effort in 16 years, is that in an attempt to evolve, they submit to mostly wooden and moderately anachronistic attempts at modernization and lose their better qualities in the process. At its worst (“Love in the Year 3000”), the album comes off as lazy, maybe even sacrilegious. Forced atop sonic beds that don’t really suit the songs, the trademark B-52’s vocal interplay feels sadly formulaic and seldom recaptures the fizzy exuberance of their past work. Funplex never swings, shimmies or threatens a disco whistle. Instead it feels like a studio-centric attempt to approximate current dance music, which is strange, because nothing here feels particularly current. “Juliet of the Spirits” sounds like a techno reworking of an ABBA outtake circa 2002, while the title track is Republica with labored Fred Schneider interruptions. If a reunion was absolutely necessary, The B-52’s would have been better served playing it straight, rather than clumsily chasing these tame geese.