Saturday, May 31, 2014

LP of the Week - "Wild Planet," The B-52s (1980)

"The world's greatest new-wave kiddie-novelty disco-punk band," Robert Christgau called them in 1980.  And while the novelty piece of that equation is fair, it's also fair to note that they're still around today, some 38 years after they first came together in Athens, Georgia during the year of our nation's bicentennial.  And that they've had precious few lineup changes over those years - the only permanent one being when guitarist Ricky Wilson died of an AIDs-related illness in 1985.  Keith Strickland, the original drummer who then assumed guitar man duties, no longer tours with the band, but still considers himself a full-fledged member.

"Wild Planet" was their second album, released just two weeks before I would leave home for college in September, 1980.  To be fair, it's not as good as their debut, but that's not much of a criticism, because the debut was an enduring masterpiece that remains one of the greatest New Wave albums ever released.  If the self-titled debut was an A+, the follow-up is no worse than an A-, and a lot of bands have done a lot worse than that.

The only thing that really distinguishes "Wild Planet" from the album that preceded it is the lack of a single track as strong as "Dance This Mess Around" and "Rock Lobster."  It's remarkably consistent, and yes, they were sticking to a formula, but you could sure do a lot worse than record and release an album that features 9 eminently danceable, fun tracks without ever missing a beat.  "Private Idaho" is probably the best song, but "Devil in My Car," "Quiche Lorraine" and "Strobe Light" come close.  There's a reason that the album was one of the staples of my Berkeley experience, and the band's near-universal appeal is the reason why so many people in our dorm were enthusiastic about attending the band's two Bay Area concerts during that time.

Rock on, dance still sounds great today.

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