50 is the New Fun

My dad, a music freak who really should have his own site (I'll write about him in another entry), and who shares music with another retirement-age music freak, gave me a copy of the B-52s latest album, Funplex. So, while I was spending the first few weeks studying and working on the computer at my new white-collar job, I took the opportunity to catch up on my music listening (something I couldn't do at work as a teacher). I had the B-52s on my playlist, I sat down, strapped up, logged in, and turned up.

I was never a B-52s fan. Yes, I liked their hits. I danced or wobbled to "Love Shack" or "Roam" at basement parties (and they were already retro then, as this was 1995-1999). I listened to Cosmic Thing, because that was their biggest-selling album. But that was it. Fred Schneider was cool, but could get annoying, and the female harmonies with Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson were pretty but predictable. They made another album after that, and then were gone.

Now , fourteen-or-so-years later (I apologize for not having specifics. A bottle of cham-pan-ya, a couple of Sam Adams and a quiet baby have made me more casual), they put out Funplex.

They are all in their fifties, or really close to it. Their first album was out in the 70s. They are respected, but are what they are. They have nothing to prove, and after a decade and a half aren't going to all of a sudden reclaim what they had. And yet, they put out perhaps one of the most underrated albums of the last year. In many respects it's not different from what they have done: They are a fun party band you want to dance to. Their lyrics are stupid and silly, and every song is catchy almost to the point of irritation. THEY REALLY HAVEN'T CHANGED IN THIRTY YEARS.

Is their age an issue? Yes, for all of the right reasons. I shall explain.(I also want to mention that I am watching "Blown Away" with Jeff Bridges, and by Lloyd Bridges it's awful).

I am part of a generation that grew up when older acts who"came back"- or really, any band that was big in the 60s and kept putting out albums- sucked ass. I am not used to "old" groups putting out anything interesting or fun, at least in the realm of rock-pop. Old groups sound their age- tired, bored, distracted (perhaps due to Extenze or Restless Legs or Microfibralgia medication) and really irrelevant. I will point to The Eagles' "Hell is Better Than This" (or "Freezes Over") album to make my point.

All of sudden, we are seeing bands return that seem to actually be creating music that stills challenges you and, more importantly, themselves; displaying that they still care about what they are selling. Bands like The Pixies, Mission of Burma, and The Toadies are creating consistent music- after all this time. This may be due in part to the fact that many "older" bands never broke up and have been recording nonstop. REM, U2, Sonic Youth, Metallica, Pearl Jam- commercially successful/well-known bands that have been together for fifteen-plus years, are consistently creating solid music (not just touring, which is the equivalent of ribbon-cutting).

And this brings us to why you listen to a group that has been around, that have made a lot of albums and have a sound that is going to stay pretty much the same. Ultimately, when you listen to some one's music, do you still enjoy it? And with those groups you first heard as a teenager, Does it still get to you like it did when you first heard them- or at least not make you work as hard to remember those days? That's really the point of listening, and the point of why you come back to a group that has been around. Do they still make you feel something, and make that feeling still seem new.

Funplex does this. The kickoff -"Pump", "Hot Corner" and "Ultraviolet"- sets the tone, because it hits you with its energy. Not only do they still sound like they want to party, they bring the tools for the trade, adding just enough of a twist to make it noticeable. The guitars are aggressive, the keys groove, and it's damn sexy. Most importantly, you forget that they are fifty. I pray I attack any passion of mine as hard and as freshly as this quartet does on this album. The B-52s have taken my perception of rock as being only for the young, tied it to the ground, and have had their sexy way with it, particularly since it's an album that embraces the basic elements of rock that are usually left to the kids. This isn't folk music or something that you listen to at the dentist office. This is a young album. They made this in 2008 but it could have been made in1988, and that's a compliment.

Next party I have, The B-52s will be the first disc you hear. That should tell you something.



Anonymous said...

Damn Chris. As a "fresh fish" contributor to this respected blog, you've got balls hyping a new album by the B-52's. However, as good as your Top 5 for the drive home was I will give this album a listen. Because, you know what you're talking about or... You're completley full of shit. Oh, congrats on the newborn. Mike P.

Matt said...

Yeah, this post is all juevos. I'm always wary of the "comeback" album, even from bands I actually used to like. No dis-respect to the B-52's, maybe I'm just not familiar enough with their work beyond Rock Lobster.

I will check this out too because of how highly you tout it, but it better be good.

Chris said...

By no means am I a B-52s fanatic. It definitely caught me at the right time. You have to be a fan to some extent of their style, but at least can respect their enthusiasm after all of these years

Anonymous said...

i am let down to see the b-52's can get columns here for a comeback when two of the year's biggest comebacks went unnoticed. Chinese Democracy (shitty but relevant) and Death Magnetic (tremendous for a bunch of washed up, booze quitting whiners) have both slipped through the cracks. maybe this has something to do with the thread discussing the "cool kids" to listen to. Is Metallica too cool to like these days? what has happened to all of us when metal and big rock are no longer important? maybe I am alone, but i thought Metallica's latest was one of their best (ride the lightning 1st, of course) and while Chinese Democracy sucked (there are a few gems there), it is a pretty bizarre set of circumstances that put it in our ipods (where's my dr. pepper, mutha fuckas?). I will admit that there is a substantial amount of "underground" music that blows albums in the mainstream out of the water, but there has to be a little bit of recognition for groups that have captured enough ears to sell millions of albums. for christ's sake Lil Wayne made top 20's from everyone and he is, at best, 10 i.q. points from being legally mentally handicapped. A milli? seriously, drown your children if this is our future. Where is the double bass and big ass guitars? where are screaming dual lead solos? i am alone or do the halls of pop rock and all their influence (for better or worse) deserve not even a glance, especially when heavy weights like GnR and Metallica (bands that got us addicted to music in the first place) reach out their geriatric hands?
happy new year,

Anonymous said...

wow... that sounded whiny. i will admit i am tired, gassy and at work. sorry.

Matt said...

I'm not going to defend the B-52's by any stretch of the imagination but I'm also not going to give any credit to Metallica either. C'mon, the Unforgiven 3? You're gonna write a f'en trilogy to a song that was mediocre in the beginning?

I gave that album a listen and it just doesn't do it for me...and I can't imagine anything they ever do on out will. Sol, you and I have played enough poker games at 4 in the morning to Ride The Lightning that you know I have nothing but love for old Metallica, but Death Magnetic ain't old Metallica. I enjoyed Chinese Democracy more.

Oddly enough just got an email about the B-52's playing at The Uptown on 5/20.

Chris said...

To sol,

Greatly appreciate both of your comments, and I know there are other "older artists" that have "comeback" albums" of note ("Chinese Democracy" one of these). I can honestly say that most of what I write at this point is A) pretty off the cuff, with not a lot of research put into it since I am often at work, and B) going to relate to what my listening experience is connected to. I was never a metal man, and thus never into Mettalica (except for the "Black Album" which is a weak comparison),as well as G n' R in the day. I also couldn't qualify Metallica as a "comeback" because they never really stopped making music, which is a credit to them in the first place, and "Democracy" doesn't have anyone from the orginal lineup except Axl, so I'll discount them. Again, thanks for the great comments, though! Keep it up!