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Second Time Around

Johnny Hammond

B-52's

Nude on the Moon: The B-52s Anthology (Rhino)

I'm tempted to point out what a travesty it is that in recent years the B-52's have permitted themselves to be marketed as rock's court jesters. I guess they have to make a living, but being a serious type, I tend to take important things – rock and roll, street drugs, and basketball, for example – seriously. You couldn't really say that about the B-52's, but not being serious isn't the same thing as not being smart. The fact is that the band's self-titled 1979 debut album was a liberating, lethal attack on the bloated, stinking world of '70s rock, which was suffocating beneath preening Robert Plants and self-involved Rick Wakefields. The B-52's knew all 16 dances, and they weren't afraid to say so. And once you got your head around that, it didn't take long to figure out that doing the shy tuna beat the hell out of listening to some fool expressing himself on a Les Paul at a "Day on the Green" marathon.

The B-52's weren't much when it came to chops – you can feel Ricky Wilson struggling not to fumble the "Peter Gunn" lick on "Planet Claire"; Fred Schneider had pitch problems and a range so limited that calling it limited seems an overstatement. But the band's stripped-down sound – the polar opposite of the '70s rock ethic – was fresh, and they made the most of it, creating a body of pop music that was irresistible in its day and holds up 25 years down the road. Nude on the Moon, Rhino Records' two-CD retrospective, has most of the band's best work – you should have it too. (J.H. Tompkins)