Musicians from all over the country, some of them talented but most of them not, flock to New York every year to start new bands. And every once in a while an engaging blend of eccentricity and talent comes along -- a band like the B-52s.
Originally from Athens, Ga., the B-52s consist of two women with beehive hairdos and spike heels and three men. They are one of the best new bands this year and their debut album on Warner Brothers, simply entitled "The B-52s" (BSK-3355) is minimalist rock 'n roll at its finest. The rhythms are strong and danceable, and although the melodies may appear a little odd at first, there are hooks that make The Knack sound like Ferrante and Teicher. They have what might be called a ready-made approach to song writing; taking the familiar sound of the '60s, reshuffling it on a fundamental level and then placing it back in the environment.
Their temperament is light and uncluttered, celebrating life's simple pleasures with a warped sensibility: Their songs are about "sitting around the fire having fun" at a beach party and "doing all 16 dances" -- but "the boys wear bikinis" and the dances are the "Camel Walk" and the "Aquavelva."
Lyricist and vocalist Fred Schneider says, "The words in most of the songs are just, well, funny; people are always looking for intent or message." It can be difficult, with lyrics like these from "Rock Lobster": Motion in the ocean His air hose broke Lots of trouble Lots of bubble He was in a jam E's in a Giant Clam
Schneider, who splits the singing with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, has a wimpy but adorable voice that is perfect for delivering these and other tongue-in-cheek lines -- like "I'm going to jump in a crator, see you later."
Kate Pierson, who says her favorite sound is "insects at dusk" achieves her great vocal success by imitating these and other exotic noises, while Cindy Wilson's voice is stronger and more abrasive. When the two of them sing together -- which is most of the time -- the effect is like sweet iced tea that knocks you off your feet like straight Jack Daniels.
The B-52s perform most of their magic outside the production studio. And without the use of a synthesizer, they produce some of the weirdest sounds imaginable relying solely on guitar, organ and vocals with a little assistance from a smoke alarm, a walkie talkie and a toy piano.
The B-52s are a band of moments, climaxes, ascents and descents. Instead of remembering an entire song, one remembers fragments. Many of them deviate radically from a straight verse-chorus format into something resembling a scrambled jigsaw puzzle in which some of the pieces fit together and some don't. A good illustration is "Dance This Mess Around." It begins like a Motown ballad, even lifting a couple lines intentionally from The Supremes' "Stop in the Name of Love," and ends in a frantic call-and-response exchange between Schneider and the two women.
The B-52s, like their audience, are products of the video generation: nourished on TV, too late for psychedelia, too cynical to enjoy the mellow '70s and too much in love with rock 'n roll to make the transition to jazz. They are a band whose time has come.