It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from the B-52s, but the flagship new wave band recently appeared on late night TV, celebrated Kate Pierson’s birthday and announced dates for a farewell tour. Plus, in a move most of us probably never saw coming, Fred, Kate and Cindy are the featured vocalists for a new Miranda Lambert song, “Music City Queen.”
With all that in mind, here’s a ranked list, from bottom to top, of the B-52’s studio albums. Styling note: B-52s had an apostrophe in their name. That’s no longer true, so the only place you’ll see that branding here is when referring to their self-titled debut album.
Good product (1992) Rating: 4
Cindy took a break while the B-52s were recording the sequel to cosmic thingtheir biggest album of all time. Good product was the result, and really, it’s just OK stuff. It follows very well the model of cosmic thing, down to the production by Don Was and Nile Rodgers and the slightly more serious lyrics. Good Stuff does indeed have good intentions, but it never quite takes off as an album. However, the title track echoes the “Love Shack” vibe and the UFO travelogue “Is That You Mo-Dean?” is suitably wacky.
Mesopotamia (1981) Rating: 6
Personally, I love the six-track Mesopotamia “mini-album”, but it is probably the most controversial of all the B-52 releases. Produced by David Byrne as Byrne simultaneously recorded his Music from ‘Catherine’s Wheel‘, Mesopotamia carries a bit of the self-aware artistic feel of The Catherine Wheel. Byrne and some of his Catherine Wheel the musicians layer the basic tracks with their instrumental noodles. This led to confusion when Mesopotamia was first released, with some critics and fans saying Byrne’s production was heavy and made the new album less fun than their first two records.
Despite these caveats, Mesopotamia is a fun listen. The title track has remained in the band’s setlists and is usually found on hit compilations. “Loveland” and “Cake” are both pretty sexy, “Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can” is a Schneider showcase of awkwardness, and “Nip It in the Bud” is a terrific new wave track with Cindy on vocals. . Even the album’s weakest track, the snoozy “Deep Sleep,” has a slinky exotic vibe that sounds straight out of Les Baxter.
Bounce off the satellites (1986) Rating: 6
Bounce off the satellites was recorded in July 1985. During this time, guitarist Ricky Wilson was seriously ill with AIDS, although only drummer Keith Strickland knew of this at the time. Wilson died in October of that year and the album was not released until September 1986.
Given the circumstances, the somewhat subdued nature of Bounce off the satellites. A rarely heard nostalgia creeps into songs like “Summer of Love”, “Ain’t It a Shame” and “She Brakes for Rainbows”. Even more typical songs like “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” and “Housework” have a calmer feel. The B52s bring the usual silliness, however, mostly in the psychedelic 1960s parody, “Detour Thru Your Mind,” and the manic homage to wild hairpieces, “Wig.”
Musically, the B52s continue the addiction to electronics that began with Wow! But that was the 1980s, right? Few bands were becoming more acoustic and less electronic in the mid-1980s.
Ultimately Bounce off the satellites is the most subtle of the B-52 albums, the loss of Ricky Wilson adding to the poignancy of the album. Following the release of Bounce off the satellitesthe B-52s took a while to mourn and regroup, emerging in 1989 with a triumphant return that would bring them their greatest mainstream success.
Funplex (2007) Rating: 7
B-52s remained active after the 1992 release of Good product and the tour that followed, but the band managed not to release another album until 2007, when they unleashed Funplex on an unsuspecting world. As the only 21st century entry in the B-52 catalog, Funplex bears little resemblance to the band’s incarnations before or after “Love Shack”, but still manage to sound like the B-52s. Keith Strickland is the musical brain of Funplexconcocting a series of catchy dance tracks that inspire his bandmates.
Funplex is loud, brash and fun. There is perhaps nothing here quite as timeless as “Rock Lobster” turned out to be. Still, Funplex adds several mini-classics to the band’s repertoire, and these songs have likely added a contemporary edge to the B-52’s live performances of the past few days.
Wow! (1983) Rank: 8
Wow! represents the B-52’s attempt to return to its wacky basics as an experiment/debacle. From your point of view, it was Mesopotamia. The songs, especially those on the first side – “Legal Tender”, “Whammy Kiss”, “Song for a Future Generation” and “Butterbean” – are filled with the goofy humor that characterized The B-52s and Wild planet. The second half of the album is less cohesive but ends with the whacky “Big Bird” and an upbeat instrumental, “Work That Skirt”. The sound of Wow! is less organic as synthesizers become more prominent. Despite, Wow! sounds like classic B-52s.
wild planet (1980) Rating: 8
The B-52’s second album is just as fun as their first, though it probably spent its entire existence in the shadow of the band’s monumental beginnings. wild planet is the natural continuation of the first album on a purely musical level. Following wild planetthe B52s would begin to go beyond their original sound.
The best tracks on wild planet – especially “Give Me Back My Man”, “Private Idaho” and “Strobe Light” – are just as good as anything on The B52s. Other songs, like “Dirty Back Road” and “53 Miles of Venus,” are a bit more atmospheric. If the album is ultimately less consistent than the first, it is a little less so. As its opening track suggests, mainly wild planet is a “Party Out of Bounds”.
cosmic thing (1989) Rating: 9
Some fans might place cosmic thing drops down a notch to #3 in the pantheon, while others elevate it to #1. I’m comfortable putting the B52’s biggest hit at number two.
Led by the massive hit single “Love Shack”, cosmic thing brought the B52s back in a big way after the death of Ricky Wilson. Produced by Nile Rodgers and Don Was – each producer working on a separate set of songs – cosmic thing fully brought the band’s sound to the mainstream. While the rusty tin roof party song got all the initial attention, cosmic thing turned out to have depth. Autobiographical tracks like “Dry County” and “Deadbeat Club” successfully followed the melancholic vibe of some of the band’s less-heralded songs. Bounce off the satellites. And as a single, “Roam” turned out to be a light follow-up to “Love Shack,” charting at No. 3 on the US Top 40, just like “Love Shack” did.
cosmic thing is a fun, beautiful and inspiring record that was also a big hit. Ricky would indeed have been proud.
The B-52s (1979) Rating: 10
Everything about the B-52’s debut album – the cover art, the style, the personality, but most importantly the music – is iconic. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard “Rock Lobster”, but it was around 15and birthday in June 1980 that I bought The B-52swith Daryl Hall and John Oates Voice. A revolutionary album, Voice found H&O playing on the edges with the new wave vibe in which The B-52s is completely submerged. The new wave was making its mark in popular music, and I, along with millions of others, was there for it.
The B-52s opens with the must-have “Planet Claire”, and the first half of the disc – including “52 Girls”, “Dance This Mess Around” and “Rock Lobster” – represents one of the best debut albums of all time. The second half may be a tad less memorable, but it’s still essential, even the ramshackle cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” that closes the record.
The B-52s just has the slightest edge that nothing else in the catalog has, and the band took their enjoyment very seriously. The B-52s is a 10 out of 10. As stated in “Dance This Mess Around”, The B-52s he’s not a Limburger, whatever that means.