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Cindy Wilson
Change Andrew Holter , January 23rd, 2018 18:01

Solo for the first time, the B-52’s co-founder experiments, collaborates and comes up good

This February will mark 40 years since Cindy Wilson and the rest of The B-52’s recorded ‘Rock Lobster’, the single that launched them as one of most brazen and inventive groups to come out of the American South. Wilson has somehow remained inconspicuous in all that time - lost in the frivolity and camp, her voice so often swirled with Kate Pierson’s like candy-cane into the harmonies that make any B-52’s song instantly recognisable even before one of Fred Schneider’s buoyant interventions. On Change, released on Kill Rock Stars, Wilson is alone for the first time, and the result is the long overdue disclosure of a talent that was always right there beneath the beehive.

From the first track, ‘People Are Asking’, it’s clear that Wilson has moved the party to a very different kind of room: gone are the streamers and confetti of The B-52’s and in their place is a languid, soulful gem. “All over the world people are asking /what more can I be?” she sings, and this must be the animating question of the entire project. Change represents exactly what its title says: a refusal to stay put in the museum of her band’s reputation, and an assertion of movement in a field that rarely affords women of her age the space to experiment.

‘Stand Back Time’ might be taken as an order to hold the years at bay; Wilson and her band have developed a gauzy dance pop sound that’s contemporary and club-ready without being so full-on and full-out in the grain of, say, Cher’s ‘Believe’. As the cyberish rendering of her face on the cover suggests, Wilson inhabits the electronic space of the album naturally - not as a voice of The B-52’s grafted onto a digital body, but as an altogether new lifeform. Even the more thumping, rhythmic demonstrations of her songcraft, like ‘No One Can Tell You’ and ‘On the Inside’, have a softness around the edges.

Several years of studio experimentation and organic collaboration have gone into Change, which comes through in the ample room Wilson gives the band and the production. The near-instrumental title track, for instance, demonstrates a confidence in her musicians and an ownership of the sound that should vanquish any loose talk about this being a vanity project or cash-in job. ‘Sunrise’, the warmest and most conventional song on the album, presents the flipside of that cohesion: Wilson’s voice melts the words over a lazy soul groove and suddenly we have The Cindy Wilson Band, with its singer in the spotlight.

The 80s feel present in the Gary Numan-esque glide of ‘Mystic’, but it’s ‘Brother’, the album’s sharpest point of departure from itself, that looks backward to greatest effect. A cover of a song by Oh-OK (the Athens, Georgia band that included Linda Stipe, sister of Michael), ‘Brother’ not only brings a welcome ruckus to this album but also pays a nice bit of homage to the Athens scene inaugurated by The B-52’s, and especially to the endurance of the music made by its woman-fronted bands. (Pylon, another one of those groups, has been touring this year under the name Pylon Reenactment Society.)

Wilson must also have known that ‘Brother’ would evoke the memory of Ricky Wilson, her own brother and the original guitarist of The B-52’s, whose death aged 32 in 1985 of an Aids-related illness devastated the band (and, of course, Cindy most of all). If nothing else, that tragedy, and Wilson’s decision in 1990 to take a break from The B-52’s in order to raise her children full-time, left the sense that she contained more than could ever find proper expression inside The B-52’s no matter how intimate the four decades have left her relationship with Schneider, Pierson, and guitarist Keith Strickland. On Change, Cindy Wilson finally shares her formidable pop intelligence, unmediated.

Cindy Wilson is touring the UK in February:
Fri 23 - Under the Bridge, London
Sat 24 - Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Sun 25 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Mon 26 - Fleece, Bristol