Nirvana made a lot of things irrelevant when Nevermind
was released in 1991, and among the most unfortunate casualties caught inside the blast radius were the B-52's. Just two years previously they had released their very first mainstream breakthrough album, Cosmic Thing
. This album was featherweight, sun- kissed, playfully pansexual and, most importantly, danceable. Tracks like "Love Shack" and "Roam" reminded us there could be fun without responsibility. Alternately kitschy and lazy (some still insist that "Deadbeat Club" was a slacker anthem long before Beck's "Loser"), Cosmic Thing
took the B-52's signature Trekkie-camp sensibility and slowed it down just enough to click on MTV and portable radio wonderfully. And let's be honest, anyway: would you rather road-trip to Kurt's sad refrain of "Well, whatever, nevermind" or Fred Schneider belting out "The whole shack shimmies!!" at the top of his lungs? (On second thought, don't answer that.) --Todd Levin
In the late 80s, after an initial burst of Technicolor freakery around the start of the decade, The B-52s were circling the Where Are They Now? columns, seemingly a wonky remnant of their own past. By the time Cosmic Thing had successfully reinstalled them bigger and better than ever before, the question was answered thusly: "Probably in Australia, hovering up sales, or scooping up awards ahoy."
This was the band's first album (their fifth overall) to be recorded after guitarist Ricky Wilson died during the recording of 1986's Bouncing off the Satellites; understandably, with the band in no mood to promote BOTS at the time, Cosmic Thing signalled something a comeback. It also saw a slightly less-lurid and kitschy look adopted - a professional move onwards from the wigs, lobsters and planets named Claire found on their iconic eponymous debut of 10 years earlier. It paid off too, chiming with the positivity and fun times the awaiting 90s had to offer, and becoming their most successful album to date.
Of course, this was mainly due to the success of the single Love Shack, a karaoke staple to this day. It was kept off the number one slot by Beats International and Snap! in the UK, but was one of the biggest singles of the year in their native US and spent eight weeks at the summit in Australia, a place that had taken the band to its heart before anyone else had. The song was based around a road trip they took out to Atlanta. Roam, the other big hit from the album, also did decent business and has been commandeered ever since as a theme for adventure holidays. The album is like a celebration of life and wonder, rather than what could have been an obituary for their earlier selves. This is true even on Deadbeat Club - a song that can be taken either as a slacker anthem or, more factually, a reflective discourse on their earlier days of no money, with ideas bursting out of their hair.
Smoothly produced by Nile Rodgers and Don Was, Cosmic Thing breathed new life into the b(r)and, and pointed the way ahead. We'll draw a discreet veil over the Flintstones theme cover that followed a few years later, and instead hold Cosmic Thing aloft as a fine encapsulation of The B-52s' world.
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