Written By: Fletcher Bonin
With their 1980 release Wild Planet the B-52’s effectively encapsulate the idea of pop-rock. This nine track album features all the retro themes, boxy guitar riffs and bouncing keyboard progressions that characterized the 80’s new wave movement. The first song ‘Party Out Loud’ sets the tone for Wild Planet with lyrics that are nearly spoken rather than sung and the refrain “who’s to blame” about a party that gets out of hand. In my opinion their sound is a smooth amalgam of the Beastie Boys meets Huey Lewis and the News.
The band is comprised of a smattering of vocalists, often crooning over guitar, organs, keyboards and bass tones. They have a disjointed, tinny, old school appeal that I think is still relevant today. Their sound is based in the guitar riffs and steady hard-hitting drum beats that arose from their rock roots and developed into a purely American sound, this album featuring tacks that may well have been anthems for the 80’s party-goers and club dancers.
Perhaps the factor that set them apart from the countless other pop-rock bands of their era was their utilization of a call and response sort of vocal performance. Often, this would be a harmony created between a male and an opposing female voice, a conversation sung for our enjoyment. This album features this call and response style in spades on such tracks as ‘Party Out Loud’, ‘Private Idaho’, and ‘Devil in My Car’. These are the tracks in which the B-52’s best claim their originality and portray their unique sound.
‘Private Idaho’ like many of the tracks off Wild Planet is rebellious, brash and unapologetic. They sing emphatically “You’re livin’ in your own private Idaho, keep off the path beware of the gate.” This is a perfect example of their lyrical style. Many of the tracks off this album tend to blend into one another and lose their own individual identity, and often times the vocals will get lost in the thumping instrumentals. However, I find the vocals stimulating and fascinating to dissect and decipher, though it will take some very close listening and perhaps a few checks on Google.
The best example of this is on ‘Quiche Lorraine’, a truly strange track that is more sketch than song in which Quiche Lorraine appears to be the name of a “two inch tall” and “dyed dark green” dog that has escaped, a sequence announced by a distraught male owner. The B-52’s refuse to be your background music and I don’t blame them. They have something to say, and I suggest listening, closely if you can.