Many observers were prepared to write off the B-52's after the release of Bouncing Off the Satellites. Granted, the album was completed in the wake of Ricky Wilson's death, but the group appeared bereft of new musical ideas and were sounding rather stale. In other words, the last thing anyone expected was a first-class return to form, which is what they got with Cosmic Thing. Working with producers Don Was and Nile Rodgers, the B-52's updated their sound with shiny new surfaces and deep, funky grooves – it was the same basic pattern as before, only refurbished and contemporized. Just as importantly, they had their best set of songs since at least Wild Planet, possibly since their debut. "Cosmic Thing" and "Channel Z" were great up-tempo rockers; "Roam" had a groovy beat blessed with a great Cindy Wilson vocal; and "Deadbeat Club" was one of their rare successful reflective numbers. Then there was "Love Shack," an irresistible dance number with delightfully silly lyrics and hooks as big as a whale that unbelievably gave the group a long-awaited Top Ten hit. The thing is, Cosmic Thing would already have been considered a triumphant return without its commercial success. The big sales were just the icing on the cake.
Conventional wisdom has it that all the B-52's' subsequent releases are highly inferior to their debut. While Wild Planet is not the rarefied wonder their first platter is, it's still darn good. The songs here are generally faster, tighter, and punchier than previously, though production values are not as wonderfully quirky and detailed; fewer songs here are as over-the-top crazy as the first album's "Rock Lobster" or "52 Girls." These formless selections continue to exhibit a cunning mix of girl group, garage band, surf, and television theme song influences, all propelled along by an itchy dance beat. "Give Me Back My Man" allows Cindy Wilson a unique opportunity to croon a broad, expressive melodic line. Fred Schneider parades his inimitably nervous vocals on chucklesome ditties like "Quiche Lorraine" and "Strobe Light." The best songs here are "Private Idaho," a wonderfully jittery number that employs a variant on the famous melodic snippet from the Twilight Zone theme music, and "Devil in My Car," a delightfully loopy hoot that lays the craziness on very thickly. Performances and sound quality are fine. This album is well worth hearing and recommended.
The B-52's were one of the great new wave bands, one of the ones who defined the style and cut one of the great records of their time (their eponymous debut), an outfit who maintained a dedicated following even as they fell off the radar of critics and hipsters, a group who overcame a tragic loss (guitarist Ricky Wilson) to make a startling, unpredictable comeback that launched them beyond college radio and to the top of the pop charts. It's a hell of a story, even if the final act was decidedly anticlimatic (after one follow-up to the Cosmic Thing comeback, 1992's Good Stuff, the group essentially disappeared apart from an embarrassing version of the Flintstones theme for the 1993 big-screen adaptation), and they're easily one of the more legendary bands of their time.