Wednesday, September 21, 2011

42. B-52's, "Rock Lobster" (1979)


You may not know it, but this prototypical masterpiece of new wave pop music—that halcyon form which exalted the "three-minute pop song" above all else—actually goes on for nearly seven minutes in the album version, hitting every silly note and striking every silly posture it can possibly think to do. It appears, more or less, to be a song about a beach party that turns into a scene from a bad science fiction movie. "It wasn't a rock / It was a rock lobster." Aieee! The sea creatures, they want to dance too! Oh, wait, they're cute. And so on. The sheer oddity of the B-52's is so beguiling that I never noticed how weird it actually is until Fred Schneider made his attempt to accommodate the grunge moment in the '90s. The sound is quick and nimble and cartoony and almost skeletal in its function, bursting with melody and rhythm as much as the self-conscious jokiness, single-string figures on a guitar joining forces with a jerky yet loping bass, piercing, percussive organ notes, and tip-tap drumming. The boisterous interplay of vocals from Fred Schneider (who sounds like he stepped off the set of a musical, playing the small-town geek) with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson is largely what creates the illusion that you have somehow wandered into a basement rehearsal session and/or impromptu house party. And while I am loath as ever to endorse music that must be studied, I must admit this now takes me a time or two through before I begin to fully connect, as I recall once doing instantly. It's just very, very strange music, as butt-simple as it appears to be at first. The point seems to be to dance, and that's usually what I find myself doing in short order. This is one of the best songs that I know to hear in public places—loud.

No comments:

Post a Comment