Saturday, April 03, 2004

#24) The B-52's - Cosmic Thing (released in 1989, I got it oncassette for Christmas that year. The initials "T.M." - yeah, I was called Tony as a wee lad - are written on it)

I had remarkably good taste as a child. Either that, or my penchant for oddity (favorite muppet Gonzo, favorite word "weird") lead me headlong into MTV-approved new wave groups like the Cars, B-52's, Talking Heads, Fine Young Cannibals and R.E.M. (other faves thanks to goofy videos were Tom Petty, Michael Penn and Mojo Nixon, whose "Elvis Is Everywhere" doesn't crack me up now as much as it did at age 10), groups that will be enjoyed by both elementary school nerds and rock critics (nerds!) alike. Though almost all the albums I adored at that age still hold a special place in my heart, Cosmic Thing is the only one I'm willing to give "classic" status too. It hasn't lost an ounce of enjoyability over the last dozen plus years.

Some critics, particularly Robert Christgau, seem to miss band's original sound too much to enjoy this album. But just as Aerosmith's MTV bangers and Rod Stewart's VH1 shlock got to me before I heard their superior earlier work, I grew accustomed to the later-day B-52's sound long before I heard "Rock Lobster." While I enjoy their early material (particularly the Cindy Wilson epics "Give Me Back My Man" and "Dance This Mess Around"), the sound feels somewhat monotonous and arch compared to the stuff that made them famous. That awkwardness was part of the appeal, true, but its not like anything Fred Schneider appears on is ever going to sound mainstream anyhow.

Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson's harmonies are consistently gorgeous (highlights include "Topaz" and "Deadbeat Club") and Keith Strickland's guitar-playing, while less identifiable than the late Ricky Wilson's, is more varied in its attack and equally capable of memorable moments. The driving, danceable pop-rock here is probably to blame for my love of later alterna-pop doofuses like Good Charlotte and Sugar Ray. Every track on the album is friendly, spirited and well-produced. I'd like to say they're all equally memorable too, but I'm kind of biased, having owned this album longer than I haven't. But I enjoyed Sgt. Peppers' even earlier and I couldn't sing "For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" to you if I tried. I will happily sing "Bushfire" at the drop of a hat, though.

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