It’s been 16 years since the last B-52s studio album. It’s been even longer since their last with Cindy Wilson, who was absent for Good Stuff but now returns to the fold. Judging from the album artwork the band have barely aged a minute, and have in fact managed to look even younger than they did when the likes of Hot Pants Explosion were getting us in a sweat.
Funplex is not a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination. If anything the re-emergence of B-52s is something to be welcomed with open arms. Now in their 30th year it is no surprise to learn that, soundwise, Funplex has little in common with their classic debut album.
The surf guitar and New Wave influences that infused the likes of Rock Lobster have long since passed, and with the addition of producer Steve Osbourne it would appear that the band might be trying to move in a new direction (he was the man who transformed New Order and Suede).
However, some things never change, and within seconds of the album kicking off with Pump, the unmistakable vocals of Kate Pierson make that 16 year wait seem like mere minutes. It may have been nearly two decades since the last new material, but Pierson’s vocals still sound vibrant and fresh, injected with a raucous enthusiasm that is hard to resist.
When coupled with the magnificent Cindy Wilson, the pair might well have a claim to be right up there with the most successful female singers of all time. The Ronettes? Pah!! Then there is Fred Schneider whose wildly camp nasal delivery is capable of defining the B-52s sound all on its own.
Pump starts off like a Krautrock disco tune. Incessant drums and low slung guitar riffs and a cold vocal from Pierson pull a quick sleight of hand trick before it opens up into a storming party track, and Pierson’s voice regains its warmth that we all know and love.
Hot Corner leaves you in little doubt that the band are in mood to party, sounding as if it has been plucked from the 60’s transported to the future, rearranged and sent back in time to find its way on to the album. It is not, however much Schneider may tell us “the last chance to dance”. There are plenty of opportunities to do that as the album progresses.
Juliet Of The Spirits takes the party mood down a little, calling to mind the likes of Good Stuff’s Dreamland and, weirdly enough, This Is My Truth era Manic Street Preachers. Most importantly it features some enchantingly perfect vocals from Wilson and Pierson which once again and remind us just what a special pairing they really are.
The disco rock of Funplex follows challenging you to sit still as it catches you in its bubblegum web. Schneider is in his element spitting out arch lines such as “Faster Pussycat thrill thrill, I’m at the mall on a diet pill” adding to his already impressive stash of genius lines.
He will later implore a cosmic being to “take off your helmet you spacey thing” in the Mo Dean sister song Love In The Year 3000, the closest B-52s come to sounding like current dance music. As always they make it their own and turn it into a camp pop classic; although at times it does remind us slightly of the Flight Of The Conchords electo piss take The Humans Are Dead.
They wrap things up with the aptly titled Keep This Party Going, something that B-52s have continued to do and for which we should be eternally grateful. There may be nothing on here Funplex that will challenge the likes of Rock Lobster or Love Shack, but Funplex is a consistently brilliant party album from a band that knows the value in simply having a good time.