As art, rock or dance noise, the B-52's "Mesopotamia" is every bit the howling failure one would expect. Musically, this li'l ole Georgia band ran out of steam with "Dance This Mess Around," and their lyrical potential was fulfilled with the chorus, "You're living in your own private Idaho."

One could have guessed, along about "Wild Planet," that the group would grow tired of their novelty existence and one-joke image, though perhaps not as quickly as their limited audience did. Predictably enough, they chose their third album to let down their beehives and Get Serious, and these days, that means calling in a producer from pale, pretentious Preppieland.

David ("Have Tape Loop, Will Travel") Byrne answered the call, bringing his bag of ersatz Afro-funk and stale studio effects along to smooth out the shrieking, squeaking vocals and soften the unrelieved kitsch afflicting the B-52's. But no matter how far down in the mix Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider are buried, it's not far enough to conceal their agonizing talentlessness.

The press hype claims that "the B-52's have put out a six-song LP in order to have a lower retail price." Uh-huh. In fact, word is that even after a year of trying to whip their dubious creativity into shape, Warner Brothers itself couldn't stomach the results enough to release a full album.

And $5.99 is plenty steep for pitifully threadbare cliches (on "Loveland," love is the "power of the hour") and wimpy, transparent metaphors (title track, in which we're given the heady information that the place sure is full of ruins). Poor Byrne means to add some gravity and "musicianship" with his obligatory fade-ins and monotonously pumping rhythms. Unfortunately for all concerned, these minimally interesting additions only serve to point up the awfulness of female voices shrieking about what they want in "Me-so-po-tay-mee-uh-uh-uh," and the grim absurdity of Schneider's resolve to read more books before he opens his mouth.

"Mesopotamia" fails at being funny like their debut album because grim old Byrne wants no truck with Georgia schlock. But it can't be viewed as a serious effort either, since the personnel involved simply lack the minimal talent to make solid rock and roll. d

n the sane old days, a novelty act like this would've received no-nonsense treatment from its label, lots of royalties on a few quickie hits and a family-hour summer replacement show on television. These days, it's allowed to spend dwindling industry dollars searching for its nonexistent soul.

If "Mesopotamia" is a symbol of anything, it's how far the industry has sunk since it began trading rock-knowledgeable executives for Harvard MBA's who react to a sales dip by desperately wasting more vinyl.

THE ALBUM -- The B-52's, "Mesopotamia," Warner MINI 3641.

THE SHOW -- Friday at 8 at Georgetown University.