After hearing the ultra-sheen producer Steve Osborne smoothed across New Order's 2001 album Get Ready, the B-52s' guitarist and music director Keith Strickland found the sound that would bring his band into 21st century. The ultra-slick, synthesizer and drum machine driven Funplex is the result, and while it doesn't make up for the 16 years since their last full-length, it's a good argument that they should get off the revival concert circuit and get back to the studio more often. On the opening "Pump," singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson prove right away they can still create sweet harmonies, while Fred Schneider displays that he's lost none of his campy spark and still sounds credible when barking out stories of hot mamas cruising the mall while high on diet pills. The track's exciting Stereolab-meets-Duane Eddy construction vindicates Strickland's hunch about Osborne, whose half-new wave, half-MP3 age production is a great match throughout. The band's shimmy and shake performance is as energetic as ever and with songs like "Hot Corner," "Juliet of the Spirits," and the title track bringing warm reminders of "Roam," "Summer of Love," or "Good Stuff," the B-52s in 2008 are still adding fine material to their catalog. Bright moments that loyal fans will cherish dot the album, like when Fred delivers a "Robots-Bootybots-Erotobots" chant ("Love in the Year 3000"), or when a simple, quintessential B-52s riff mixes with intoxicating future disco ("Eyes Wide Open"). Problem is the songwriting seems a bit forced at times and the towering highlights found on their top-shelf efforts are missing. Nothing here is as gripping or as perfect as "Rock Lobster," "Private Idaho," or "Love Shack," and the songs that are borderline filler get pushed into one big forgettable lump towards the end of the album. Turns out, being the world's greatest party combo isn't just like riding a bike, but the B-52s are certainly pointed in the right direction. Think of Funplex as a likeable album from a lovable band and adjust your party planner accordingly.
by David Jeffries