A Young Person’s Guide To: B-52s – Mesopotamia [pt. 1]

b521983 presskit

 

I had been a fan of the B-52s from the point of finally hearing/seeing them on Saturday Night live after being taunted by the splendor of their debut album cover for six months in the record store. I [finally] bought their debut and immediately bought their sophomore “Wild Planet” album the week of its release in 1981. By late 1981 I was beginning to wonder when their third album would be released, since in those innocent times, an album a year by your favorites was pretty much the standard. At least by that time, I had entered college and thus the wonder of Billboard magazine was part of my weekly schedule! The scuttlebutt in those august pages spoke of how the B-52s would have their new album produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads. Hmmm. I didn’t know what to think about that.

The B-52s were an ebullient party band and Byrne was a neurotic outsider, capable of brittle, unnerving tension that occasionally found release in Talking Heads music; the two bands were certainly worlds apart in vibe. It was not until early January of 1982 when the mooted “Mesopotamia” album finally dropped, and when it did, I could’t help but notice that the resulting disc was a six track EP, clocking in at a scant 26 minutes.

Warner Bros. Records | US | EP | 1982 | MINI 3641

Warner Bros. Records | US | EP | 1982 | MINI 3641

B-52s – Mesopotamia US EP [1982]

  1. Loveland 5:00
  2. Deep Sleep 3:29
  3. Mesopotamia 3:49
  4. Cake 5:48
  5. Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can 4:30
  6. Nip It In The Bud 3:32

This disc quickly entered the Record Cell but didn’t stay long. It was gone within four years during the Great Vinyl Purge. To say that I didn’t care for it at the time was an understatement. I felt that David Byrne was exactly the type of person who should have been kept at arms length from this artistic, yet ultimately, fun loving party band. The dry, flat production did nothing for me back in the day. Having rid my collection of this mini album, I had not really thought about it too much in the intervening decades. Until this morning, that is. While at the gym, the title track aired on the P.A. and for the first time ever, it sounded good to me.

Maybe it was simply the fact that this sounded less electronic than all subsequent B-52s releases, that won it some retroactive favor with my ears. I’ve come to think that the moment when the band bought synthesizers was their waterloo. Some later material sounds okay, but their adoption of sound-alike synthesizers instead of the freakish and idiosyncratic instrumentation that brought them to my ears [Farfisas, Walkie-Talkie, 2-string guitar, etc.] seems, in retrospect, to have been a decision that reduced their entertainment value for me. So now that I was interested in this record again, I went to see about a CD.

Reprise Records | US | CD | 1991 | 9 26401-2

Reprise Records | US | CD | 1991 | 9 26401-2

B-52s: Party Mix/Mesopotamia US CD [1991]

  1. Party Out Of Bounds 5:12
  2. Private Idaho 4:04
  3. Give Me Back My Man 7:00
  4. Lava 6:07
  5. Dance This Mess Around 2:57
  6. 52 Girls 3:02
  7. Loveland 5:05
  8. Deep Sleep 3:30
  9. Mesopotamia 3:51
  10. Cake 5:36
  11. Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can 4:09
  12. Nip It In The Bud 3:32

Following the mega-platinum success of 1989’s “Cosmic Thing” over a two year stretch, it didn’t take their new label Reprise Records long until they re-issued everything they could get their hands on. They released a remixed CD of the Fred Schneider solo album, repackaged very differently, and they also threw together this comp of the band’s two EPs for Warner Brothers in 1981 and 1982. The “Mesopotamia” EP was now on CD, but to buy it, you had to also get their awful 1981 filler EP of remixes from their first two albums. Considering that the band was known for wild dance music to begin with, the collection of remixed album cuts made after the fact [perhaps the first post-modern remixes?] by hands not at the initial recording of these tunes struck me as gratuitous and exploitative. I didn’t buy it in 1981 and I still don’t want it now. What is intriguing, is the credit for a remix of “Mesopotamia” by Tom Durack. I just found this out and am pondering this.

Next: “Mesopotamia” Gets Crazy…

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to A Young Person’s Guide To: B-52s – Mesopotamia [pt. 1]

  1. Steve says:

    Back when “Mesopotamia” was first released, I bought it on cassette (!) and loved it right off the bat. Even though it wasn’t as nutty and high-energy as the first two albums, there were great songs/performances on this EP and I spent weeks listening to it on my Walkman. I was definitely bummed/confused when I found out several months later that the band essentially disowned what I thought was a pretty great release.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – It looks like you might have matured more quickly than me or the band themselves! The title cut sounded great to me the other day and I’m willing to give it a chance again with seasoned ears. But it has gone the other way. When Peter Murphy’s “Holy Smoke” came out I hated the videos I saw from it so much that I never bought a copy. Then I bought it ten or so years later and found out that it was as lacking as I always suspected. It was quickly ejected from the Record Cell, but now I’m planning on buying three copies of “Mesopotamia!” Go figure. I think it comes down to the B-52s becoming too electronic later in their career. This might be the last point of balance before the synths took over. True, I’m a “synth guy,” but sometimes there’s too much synth in my musical diet. I can state that my enjoyment of The B-52s, Thompson Twins, and even Annie Lennox + Dave Stewart as Eurythmics [as compared to The Tourists] decreased when synths came to the fore.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Mesopotamia is the sound B52’s performing for Commes Des Garcons clad artist in a loft in either early 80’s SoHo or Long Island City. It’s weird in an “artsy” way rather than a histrionic, party way. Kate and Cindy’s vocals shine for me. Byrne brings in elements of polyrhythm and dissonance which I agree I didn’t quite like when I first heard the EP, but by the time of Cosmic Thing was yearning for the band to explore again. It’s as if Byrne presented a brief to the band before recording saying, lets capture your spiky, off-kilter sound and slow it down. Not sure why the band agreed, but even at half speed, the songs are pure B52’s. If you took the title track and doubled the speed, it would sound right at home on the debut disc. I think the one song that Byrne cast too long a shadow over was Cake. It’s pure Post-Fear Of Music Talking Heads – nothing really B52’s about it, other than Kate and Cindy.
    As for the closer, Nip It In The Bud – I wonder if it’s a song directed at Byrne. It sounds like the band might have ran back in the studio and re-recorded it to up the party factor after Byrne was finished with the project.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – As I was struck by the intriguing sounds of the title track, it might have been a case of their Yoko Ono influence becoming dominant under the tutelage of Byrne. When I was 19 it seemed like a bummer. Now? Intriguing.

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  3. I can recall whispers of discordant strife over the recording sessions, presumably the band being unhappy with the results. Given that Byrne (and Eno) were beginning to experiment with their “remix/cutup of jam sessions into songs” technique, I wonder if this was where the root of the problem lies. I have nevertheless always loved the song “Mesopotamia” as a single. Taken on its own, it’s a nice change of pace for a band that was threatening to become a bit samey, and regardless of their unhappy experience with it the sound on the EP did have an influence on their later work. The other songs on the record are less memorable for me, though I do remember liking “Throw That Beat” and “Nip it in the Bud.” Of course, nothing will ever sound as good as those first two albums, though they went on to achieve a number of high points after that.

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