Postpunk via synthpop seems more like a 1980s concern than one of 2008. However, the B-52s’ latest release, “Funplex,” leaves one wondering whether one is on a retro futuristic spaceship headed for infinity.
With its high modern aesthetic, “Funplex” creates a futuristic sound which would have astonished and delighted the B-52s’ original audiences in 1979. Indeed, the album sounds so familiar that if it were on the radio, one would probably think it was 80s hour. Not that the songs are stale, far from it; despite the band’s slightly more wrinkled faces, they seem as fresh as that yellow album cover on their first release.
One of the band’s guitarists, Keith Strickland, said that New Order’s album “Get Ready” had been a huge influence, but the resulting album still manages to come out sounding like Devo with better equipment.
From the opening song, “Pump,” the album weaves risque vocals with a fantastically artificial sound. When an album starts with female vocals purring “I look at you and I’m ready to come,” you know what you’ve bargained for. “Get serious, get off the ’phone / Talk to me and make me moan,” orders the band’s other singer, Fred Schneider, with a wry tone in response adopting a style beloved by new bands like Louis XIV. However, the song fails to seem seedy when the guitar playing is so strong.
The punk-y lyrics circulate in a world of nebulas, “Lurex gowns” and “vortexes,” but not in a way that is trite or annoying given the very constructed nature of this world. In some ways, it’s probably still all right to do seven lines of coke off the dashboard of a silver 1979 Ferrari 308GTS wearing a coat made out of tinfoil whilst listening to this album — hey, why not, it’s the future, soon everyone will walk around in spacesuits and look like David Bowie.
“Funplex’s” main strength is that, despite its polarizing musical approach, it remains fun. Nothing is too serious, and the album doesn’t suffer. The album is simply great to jump around.
“Love in the Year 3000” is a good example of this tendency to amuse. Sure, “Robot, Bootybot, Bewadabop /…we’re making space-love in zero gravity” wouldn’t withstand serious critical investigation, but, then again, “Love in the year 3000 might be a different thing.” The beat is simply fantastically jerky and the blaring lyrics serve to create something quite magical.
The title song, “Funplex,” is perhaps the best on the album, and it is no wonder that the song has been chosen as the first single. More similar in style to New Order than the rest of the album, the song manages to fuse tight guitar chords with the band’s signature staccato singing. “I’m a pleasure seeker shopping for some platinum action, / I’m a pleasure seeker moving to the musak” seems to be what this album is all about — losing oneself in a spacey world somewhere between here and infinity. Perhaps best of all on this track, Schneider’s Dead Kennedys-style barking climaxes in the ironically brilliant “Faster faster, can’t get enough” and contrasts in beautiful juxtaposition with more rhythmic harmony vocals.
“Ultraviolet” is another song worthy of mention. More punk than the rest of the album, lyrics such as “There’s a rest stop / Let’s hit the G-Spot” confirm it as one of the album’s more interesting tracks.
The album is definitely one of the best things to come out of 2008 so far, so, B-52s, “keep doin’ whatcha doin’ ’cause it’s what we like.”