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The party's starting over!

Byline: Craig S. Semon


The B-52s

"Funplex" (Astralwerks)

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The B-52s finally blasts off into the new millennium with "Funplex," an album that delivers what the title promises and, even after a 16-year hiatus, prove the band still knows how to dance this mess around.

Despite all being in their 50s, members of the B-52s (singers Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson and guitarist Keith Strickland) exhibit the same infectious exuberance and inspired lunacy as when they released "Rock Lobster" 30 years ago. Fans can check out if the band still has it live when the B-52s play an intimate club show April 23 at the Paradise Rock Club, Boston, and is part of the "True Colors" festival with Cyndi Lauper May 31 at the Bank of America Pavilion, Boston.

The B-52s is ready, willing and able to "take you to the freak zone" on the leadoff track, "Pump." On the first of many potential dance crazes served piping hot on the album, the B-52s has wonderfully updated its sound with electronica touches while somehow keeping it refreshingly retro. Strickland's surf guitar riffs ride a percolating bed of frenetic keyboards and clattering programming. Topping this off is the wonderful call-and-response banter between Schneider (in full-fledged, mad-scientist mode) and the ageless New Wave divas Pierson and Wilson, which never gets old.

It's the last chance, last dance for love and romance on "Hot Corner." Guaranteed to make you shake and shimmy (and make you recall the band's mammoth, breakthrough hit, "Love Shack"), the song meshes Schneider's offbeat nasal commands with Pierson and Wilson's impeccable harmonies. During one of the song's winning exchanges, Schneider barks, "Hey, y'all last call/Last chance to dance/On a white hot shimmy in a Lurex gown," and Pierson and Wilson chime on cue, "Shimmy, shimmy, hot shimmy, shimmy." If this doesn't turn your surroundings into an impromptu dance floor, check yourself for a pulse.

"Ultraviolet" erupts into a whimsical sex farce in which the witty repartee is more silly than steamy, more playful than perverted. A hot-and-bothered Schneider pushes all the right buttons with a series of rapid-fire, quirky lines, including "Hey, ultraviolet you bottled it right/Tell your skirt to take a hike." Obviously not to be taken seriously (or, more important, to get offended by), Schneider's sexual shenanigans are juxtaposed with his female cohorts' swooning, seductive harmonies about "Keep doin' what you're doin'/'Cause you're doin' it right."

Pierson and Wilson join forces on "Juliet of the Spirits," a cool-sounding, nocturnal club-hopper inspired by the Fellini film of the same name. Although much more subdued than "Roam," the song shows kinship to that previous smash in the way the two ladies' voices mesh and entrance the listener. Dreamier than any of Madonna's electroncia excursions, the song builds on the strength of the women's masterful harmonies and reaffirming mantra of letting go of inhibitions and unleashing one's hidden potential.

The B-52s skewer today's throwaway mall culture with aplomb on the title track, "Funplex." In the irresistibly quirky story line, Schneider plays a compulsive buyer riding a caffeine high and Pierson is a "daytime waitress at the Taco Tiki Hut" whose worlds collide in a fast-food frenzy. Sounding like a manic preacher from a Russ Meyer sexploitation flick, Schneider barks, "Faster pussycat, thrill, thrill/I'm at the mall on a diet pill," while Pierson carries on about how her heart was broken at the Funplex. If only a trip to the mall was this much fun.

On the instant bizarro classic "Love in the Year 3000," The B-52s venture back to the spaced-out terrain that made such gems as "Planet Claire" such a hoot. A welcome return to the absurd, Schneider sings about being swept into "the spandex spiral vortex" where "robots, bootybots and erotobots" reign supreme. Delivering silly sci-fi commentary that only Schneider can get away with, B-52s resident space cadet sings, "Tentative tentacles/Are grabbin' me/We're makin' space love in zero gravity."

The snappy, sexually depraved ditty "Deviant Ingredient" is part "X-Files," part soft porn, part acid trip and all fun. Making the "neon scene" on the "Martini Mile," Schneider, Pierson and Wilson exchange plenty of playful sexual banter while Strickland keeps the song grooving.

The album closer, "Keep This Party Going," is another reason for fans to want The B-52s to keep on going. A snarly guitar, clanky drums and locomotive bass lines form the song's enticing groove. But it's the vocalists that take the party to the forefront. In the only campaign slogan I've heard worth rallying behind this year, Pierson and Wilson belt out, "Take this party to the White House lawn/Things are down and dirty in Washington ." Consummate party animal Schneider adds, "Go to church on Sunday/Party on Monday/And every other day of the week/We're just a bunch of party geeks.'' No argument here.


CUTLINE: The B52s, from left: Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson.
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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 13, 2008
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