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The B-52's combine fresh music with their classic sound

Peter Larsen
The Orange County Register (MCT)

If it feels like ages since the B-52's released a new album, welcome to the party, because it seems the same way to singer Fred Schneider.

"We recorded `Love Shack' 19 years ago, which is just surreal," Schneider says by phone from Philadelphia, at the start of band's latest tour.

"We're not exactly the most prolific group," he says with a touch of understatement. "But I don't think there's a bad song on this album."

The album, "Funplex," actually started about four years ago, Schneider says. That's when guitarist Keith Strickland came to Schneider and fellow singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson with a batch of new tunes.

"Keith felt he had music that he was excited about, and had a good direction for the band," Schneider says. "And we were all ready to do a new album. I'd already started working on a solo album, but nobody was clamoring for that."

But business problems slowed them down. They wanted to own all of any new album outright, and they kept touring while gathering the money needed to pay for studio time and producer Steve Osborne, whose work includes the last few albums by New Order, an influence that comes through on several "Funplex" tracks.

After the band gathered in Atlanta, the songs came together quickly, Strickland providing the music, the three singers coming up with the words, the four of them then piecing together the trademark B-52's sound quickly.

"I think my favorites are `Love in the Year 3000' and then `Deviant Ingredient' and `Eyes Wide Open,'" Schneider says. "I like the ones that are weirdest."

The B-52's started playing songs from the album last year, months before the March release of "Funplex," to strong reviews and favorable comparisons with the band's earlier work.

On this tour, the band is mixing six or seven new songs in with their older classics like "Rock Lobster" and "Planet Claire."

"`Love in the Year 3000,' it really gets the crowd going," Schneider says. "We amp up all the songs, but that one we can amp up even more."

And thanks to internet sites such as YouTube.com, old fans show up familiar with the new songs, while new, younger fans arrive well-versed in the older tunes. Schneider says.

"I'm happy doing the new stuff, and the response to the new stuff, because of YouTube, they already know it," he says. "In the past, they used to clap politely, and then you'd play an older song and they'd go wild."

As for the crowds that turn out, it's a multi-generational scene, Schneider says.

"We have every generation. We have fans with kids, fans who didn't realize before YouTube that we had a career before `Love Shack,' fans from `Rock Lobster' - a total mixed bag.

"I'm just lucky," Schneider says of the career that started more than three decades ago in Athens, Ga. "I haven't got a skill. So as long as I can sing and stuff, I'm OK."

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