Album: The B-52's, Funplex (EMI)

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The Independent Culture

Thanks in part to the growth of children's TV, fun has become a much more commodified notion than it was 30 years ago, when The B-52s released their classic debut single "Rock Lobster". It's a perfect, impregnable pop record: even Family Guy's fat oaf Peter couldn't tarnish its cheery lustre with an acoustic folk-song version in a recent episode.

But then, The B-52s were always a cartoon band, a three-dimensional realisation of a two-dimensional ideal. It's this cartoonish aspect that enables the band to make a comeback 16 years after their last studio album, and not seem as silly or sad as most superannuated rockers. If anything, those Hawaiian shirts and beehive hairdos will be even more comical on fiftysomething frames. As with Devo, Kraftwerk and other uniformed bands, the image serves as armour; if you don't have to keep up with fashion, you're never out of fashion.

Music is another matter, of course; but even the most grudging churl would have to acknowledge that The B-52s' party-punk pop is as potent as ever on Funplex. Keith Strickland is one of rock's great rhythm guitar stylists, and the trenchant swagger of his riffs on tracks such as "Too Much To Think About", "Pump" and the title track remains as infectious as ever, all the more propulsive for being harnessed to punchy Nineties beats while Eighties electropop synths float the melody above. On "Hot Corner", the result is akin to a Velvet Underground grind behind a classic Sixties girl-group like The Ronettes or Shangri-Las; with Kate Pierson taking lead vocals, "Juliet of Spirits" could be a Girls Aloud or Sugababes pastiche; and when Fred Schneider steps forward to front "Ultraviolet", he's like some preppy über-nerd.

Schneider has a voice pre-loaded with irony, and it's the perfect vehicle for the kitsch catchphrase lyrics that are the band's forte. Who else could get away with lines like "It's the yin and yang shang-a-lang", "Do a white-hot shimmy in a Lurex gown/ Quit the tornado and the lasso", "Faster pussycat, thrill thrill/ At the mall on a diet pill", "In the spandex spiral vortex", and my favourite, "Take off your helmet, you spacey thing"; the last two appear in the saucy sci-fi number "Year 3000", featuring Fred as a "robot booty-bap" feeling "tentacles grabbing me" during weightless space-sex with an alien.

There's no emotional depth or political acuity here, but if it's sex and dancing you're after, Funplex is the place to be. As Schneider admits in "Deviant Ingredient", "It's a shallow existence, but I got to have it." How about you?

Pick of the album:'Pump', 'Hot Corner', 'Funplex', 'Year 3000', 'Deviant Ingredient'

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