The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.
Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.
In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.
A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.
The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.
One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.
The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).
The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”
Hit: Love Shack
Hidden Gem: Dry County