Good to know that some things don't change. Namely, that sixteen years after their last studio album, Fred Schneider still remains an emphatic doofus, while Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson can harmonize and bemoan lost love with the best of 'em, that Keith Strickland can plunk out deceptively simple brain-ticklin' guitar lines, and that the B-52s are still capable of blending sci-fi kitsch and club beats into addictive musical confections. Good to know, in other words, that a reunited group can name their new album Funplex and actually live up to the billing.
If you know and love the Athens, Georgia dance rockers, you know what this disc sounds like. Toss out a stanza ("Private property; hippie be quiet/Your peace sign tee-shirt could cause a riot!") and you can already imagine what it'll sound like with Fred declaiming it. If Funplex (Astralwerks) has any surprise, it's in the plain fact that this material sounds as fresh as it does. For a band so focused on the ephemeral, the B-52s sound has proven remarkably durable. I've been playing this disc for weeks, and, to my ears, it's the most consistently solid album these Southern goof-butts have ever released. (Even their beloved debut, B-52s, falls down a mite in its second half.) Other bands should use a decade-plus hiatus so smartly.
To enhance the plexiness, Funplex is also the most explicitly carnal album ever released by these inveterate party apotheosizers: the image of pumping and stroking regularly recur on the disc. "There's a rest stop, let's hit the g-spot," Fred yammers in "Ultraviolet," to which the girls happily respond with a high-pitched soulful trill. The erotic theme remains so palpable that when our man starts comically droning on about "erotobots" and "bootybots," it almost seems redundant. First track in ("Pump") and the band is already talk/singing about the old in-and-out, and you imagine the filthy moves that this track'll most likely inspire on the dance floor.
Elsewhere, the band manage to reference both Russ Meyer and Jerry Lewis in the disc's primo title cut – a trio of amusing dramatic monologues set in a shopping mall ("I'm a daytime waitress at the Taco Tiki Hut/I'm a daytime waitress, here's your stupid Seven-Up!") – and celebrate onetime Fellini spouse Giuletta Masina ("Juliet of the Spirits") in a song that could've fit snugly onto one of Blondie's better albums. They dabble in Kraftwerkian electrofunk with "Eyes Wide Open" and provide an always-welcome psychedelic pslide to "Too Much to Think About." By the time Strickland's guitar starts chiming in with proto-Stones vigor on the final cut, "Keep This Party Going," it's clear that the B-52s still have something to say to the next generation of would-be hedonists.
"Take this party to the White House lawn; things are getting dirty down in Washington," the girls proclaim. Only the irredeemably tight-assed could deny the call.