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Formed in 1976 The B-52's at the time of recording this album were Kate Pierson (Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar), Fred Schneider (Vocals, Keyboards, Piano, Cowbell), Keith Strickland (Guitar, drums, Keyboards, programming) & Cindy Wilson (vocals). Long time guitarist & brother to Cindy Ricky Wilson had died 4 years earlier and the band had been on somewhat of a hiatus due to the bereavement, Strickland replaced him on guitar for this album.
The band are kind of hard to pidgeon hole but get referred to under various musical genres including New wave, post-punk, pop, surf-pop, dance rock & alledgedly the name of the group comes from a beehive hairdo that looked like the nose cone of the legendary plane. Strickland also says he had the name whispered to him in a dream. I guess it doesn't really matter which version of the story you want to believe, either way its quite a fun name for a pretty quirky group which these folks certainly are.
Hailing from Athens, Georgia in the USA they developed alongside contemporaries such as R.E.M who also come from the same area.
Personally I purchased this particular album on cassette tape at RAF Swinderby in April of 1990 when I was doing my basic training there as we were always looking for relief in any form and music was very helpful. Cosmic Thing was the bands 5th album & probably their biggest global hit reaching #4 in the U.S. Billboard 200 & #8 in the UK Albums Chart.
So whats on Cosmic Thing then?
1. "Cosmic Thing" (The B-52's) - 3:50
This was the 1st track to be released as a single & also featured in the soundtrack of the movie "Earth Girls Are Easy", its a fairly hypnotic guitar beat backed with a hard hitting drum line. Kate & Cindy provide great harmonies & Fred does his usual job of more half shouting/half speaking (a style referred to as sprechgesang, a German term which quite literally means spoken-song and thats exactly what Fred does but to really great effect) the lyrics than singing them, its very William Shatner. Totally useless bit of info, the track was originally called Shake That Cosmic Thing.
2. "Dry County" (The B-52's) - 4:54
Now we get to the better tracks, this is a great laid back electric organ riff about a hot lazy day where you are bored. Its great advice about how to beat the blues too. More awesome harmonies from Cindy & Kate backing Freds almost monotone lead vocal. Its such a bizarre contrast but it really works. I hadn't heard the track for several years but I hadn't forgotten the words & soon found myself singing along. The B-52's are infectious like that. They are the bird flu of music but I dont mind being infected with them.
3. "Deadbeat Club" (The B-52's) - 4:45
Another personal favourite for me, Michael Stipe features in the video for this one. The title comes from being called deadbeats by their parents who didnt deem them to have "proper jobs" as a musical band. It was the final single to be released off the album & all the locations mentioned in the song were real life hangouts of the band before they became famous. And yes Normaltown is a REAL place! I was surprised too. Another track I sing along to although I cant manage the awesome high notes Kate & Cindy do so I generally sing Freds parts ;-)
4. "Love Shack" (Pierson, Schneider, Strickland, Wilson) - 5:21
If you don't know this song you must have been under a rock from late 1989 to early 1990, it was EVERYWHERE! It reached #1 in Ireland, New Zealand & Australia. I think the only reason it wasn't #1 in the UK was probably due to "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinéad O'Connor. Its a great upbeat song about a roadtrip to a real jumping musical joint, the location was based on a real place where Kate Pierson lived in the 1970's but it burned down in 2004. The song is a perennial karaoke duet favourite too. I'm that good I can sing both parts, if you close your eyes you'd swear I was Fred. A parody version called "Glove Slap" was recorded by the band for an episode of The Simpsons. And yes that is drag queen Rupaul in the video.
5. "Junebug" (The B-52's) - 5:04
If this tune reminds you of Walk Like An Egyptian (the intro seriously does) then I'm not in a minority, it'll probably also remind you of the intro to the Nickleodeon cartoon "Rocko's Modern Life" because Fred & the girls did record of version of the theme tune for them at the height of this albums fame. I love the counterpointed Les Paul style guitar riffs and the girls make an eerie not quite harmony that works but shouldn't. "Don't you listen to what they say, 'cause we're a little different anyway" says the lyric. Amen to that Fred, amen indeed. I get the feeling they were celebrating the life of their missing band mate in this track and its a great tribute if that was the case.
6. "Roam" (Pierson, Schneider, Strickland, Waldrop, Wilson) - 4:54
If you aren't hooked in by the multitracked multilayered vocal intro of Kate & Cindy then you might actually be dead, its so hypnotic. It was the 3rd single to be released and its best global chart position was #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was also used in commercials for Subaru in New Zealand as well as the Discovery Channel, its available as a download for the game Rock Band, it'd certainly improve your guitar skills for sure. Its lyrics are strange but basically talk about a long trip for love. I think its great and yes its another one I sing along to.
7. "Bushfire" (The B-52's) - 4:58
Freds voice in the intro of this has a similar multitracked treatment to the girls in the previous song, its what I'd describe as quite a belter as none of the vocalists hold back in their delivery of the lyrics. The guitar & drum lines are beautifully simple with some rather insanely brilliant guitar counterpoints in the middle 8, the girls give serious "ah-ah" harmonies behind Freds spoken delivery. He is seriously aiming at Shatners "Rocket Man" delivery in this one apart from the chorus where he actually sings!
8. "Channel Z" (The B-52's) - 4:49
The 2nd single to be released off the album about a fictional radio station, its fairly tongue in cheek but everyone gives 100% effort as always even if its not meant to be taken very seriously. Fred takes the opportunity to zing a few things that irk him in some of the lyrics, apparently the song also featured in an episode of the US tv show Doogie Howser. Its a decent enough tune but its overshadowed by the better songs on the album. If anything the rather stark imagery of the song reminds me of the tv show Max Headroom.
9. "Topaz" (The B-52's) - 4:20
I LOVE that short sax intro that reminds me of the old UK Milk Tray advert! Its a lovely relaxed set of harmonic lyrics where Cindy & Kate are almost sirenlike in their delivery, Fred is positively understated in his backing vocals (yes, you didnt read that wrong - Fred on backing vocals). The song was used in a commercial for a car of the same name. The tune itself feels very new age, its probably the fairly hippy lyrics.
10. "Follow Your Bliss" (The B-52's) - 4:08
I have to claim this as my favourite track on the album even though its an instrumental (But it does have some rather mindblowing harmonic vocals by the girls). As much as I love the singing of Fred, Cindy & Kate I ADORE the structure of this tune that sounds like it fell out of Duane Eddys mind, it was a great source of comfort as well an excellent song to relax and fall asleep to. I think listening to this too much actually broke my cassette tape of Cosmic Thing.
So there you go, 10 tracks and 8 of them are excellent. 1 is a near miss but still very listenable and the other I can either take or leave. I have no great love nor hatred for it either way. The album itself is dirt cheap these days and well worth anyones money, its an extremely upbeat album that will lift your spirits and can also relax your mind. I doubt many gold selling albums can make that claim. It was as fun to re-listen to as it was to review and left me with a smile on my face.
(this review also appears on Caio!)
Fans of The B-52s will probably really like this album, much better than Bouncing Off the Satellites. Although I still really like this band. This album is a return their earlier style (before Ricky Wilson died).
I will admit that their sound is a tiny bit more updated in this album but it still isnt really anything special in my opinion. I will say that it is very up-beat and boppy (which is something fans probably really like about this band). But I have to say that I found the electric synthesizer 'twangy' sound really annoying and a constant back ground reiteration of the lyrics is also really irritating. Although I think that Cindy Wilson's vocals can be really lovely at times, in some of the songs they are a bit whiny and aggravating.
The lyrics are not much more developed than the hay-day of Love Shack (a tune I actually do like of theirs-who doesnt). But in their defence I think the band does aim for frivelous lyrics, so I guess I cant critisize them for this too much.
If you are a fan of this band then I honestly think you will love this album but if you have never heard of them, then consider yourself lucky and honestly dont waste your time/money on this album.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Cosmic Thing
2 Dead Beat Club
4 Bush Fire
6 Dry County
7 Love Shack
9 Channel Z
10 Follow Your Bliss