Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Dance This Mess Around" /
The B-52s

Good news, America -- the B-52s will be releasing a new album on March 25th, their first in 16 years. I take that as a sign that, despite all signs to the contrary, life on Planet Earth will prevail. You know, when you think about it, they first surfaced in the late 70s and early 80s, another crummy era in American history -- maybe there's some correlation. Alls I know is, we need the B-52s' special brand of F-U-N now more than ever.

Nowadays, if a band this wacky appeared on the scene (yes, Panic! at the Disco, I'm looking at you), you'd suspect they were crafted and market-tested. But when I first saw the B-52s pony out onto the stage in Central Park in 1979, it never crossed my mind that they were anybody's shrewd invention. Those beehive wigs on Kate and Cindy, Fred with his lounge-lizard slink, and above all that strange spaceage-retrobop sound -- it worked because they themselves were having more fun than anybody else at the concert. Sure, there was a big wink to everything they did, but it was never a smirk. Anybody who wanted to jump up and do all 16 dances along with them was welcome into the tribe.

Their debut album started out with four songs that were just killers: "Planet Claire," "52 Girls," "Dance This Mess Around," and then "Rock Lobster," each one a little weirder than the one before it. It was a whole party on one convenient black vinyl disc -- indeed, every party I went to in those days started and ended with it. Even now, I have a hard time hearing one track without expecting the next one to follow.

On one level, "Dance This Mess Around" is just another catchy jukebox filler, the bratty younger sibling to "Land of a Thousand Dances." Mentioning all those outmoded dances was a no-brainer, given their 60s-style visual look. For the record, here are all the dances they list: the Shu-ga-loo, the Shy Tuna, the Camel Walk, the Hip-o-crit, the Coo-ca-choo, the Aqua-velva, the Dirty Dog, the Escalator...even if you throw in the Hippy-Hippy-Shake and the Shake-Bake from the chorus, that's not 16. But who's counting? They could have made them up for all I know, or care. But they sure looked great on stage.

There's a completely phony haze of nostalgia laid on for good measure -- "Remember when you held my hand / Remember when you were my man / Walk talk in the name of love / Before you break my heart" -- classic girl-group crap. But there's no wall of sound here, just a spare surf-guitar line and lockstep drumming and occasional snaking around on the keyboards (this song had electronica down way before anybody gave it a name) and Cindy's stylized screams -- Ronnie Spector would never have done that to her voice. And Fred Schneider's, um, singing -- yeah, that was something new, all right.

Somewhere halfway through, there's a long section -- this song does seem longer than it is, but in a good way -- where Cindy keeps repeating "Why don't you dance with me? / I'm not no limberger!" For the longest time, I couldn't believe she was singing about smelly cheese; I assumed she was singing, "I'm not a limber girl." But of course, limberger was exactly what Cindy felt like, so why not?

That big Why Not? -- that was the essence of the B-52s. I always had the idea that they knew they were a novelty act, and never wanted to be anything else. The first time I saw them they shared the bill with the Talking Heads, who were still in their art-school geek phase, and both acts were smart and post-modern and extremely danceable. Then David Byrne had to turn himself into a Serious Artiste . . . well, I'm forever grateful to the B-52s for sticking to their dance-pop guns. The idea that they're still around, still turning every concert into a big goofy party, makes me very happy indeed.

Now doesn't that make you feel a lot better? (What you say?) I'm just askin'!

Dance This Mess Around sample


Uncle E said...

OK, now you're talkin' my language!! This song is unmatched in it's supreme weirdness and dance-ability (spelling?). It sounds nostalgic and modern at the same time.

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Franko6677 said...

Yeah, this is one of my favorite B's songs. Even though I always say I prefer the strictly Kate/Cindy songs (no offense to Fred, but...small doses...).

I sampled the new album online and am sorry to say I couldn't really get into it. It's very clubby-sounding throughout.