Mesopotamia (EP)

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Mesopotamia
EP by The B-52s
Released January 27, 1982 (1982-01-27)
Recorded September 1981 at Blank Tape Studios, New York City
Genre New wave
Length 25:43
Label Warner Bros. (US)
Island (UK)
Producer David Byrne
The B-52s chronology
Party Mix!
(1981)
Mesopotamia
(1982)
Whammy!
(1983)
Singles from Mesopotamia
  1. "Deep Sleep"/"Nip It in the Bud"
    Released: January 27, 1982 (1982-01-27)
  2. "Cake"/"Loveland"
    Released: January 27, 1982 (1982-01-27)
  3. "Mesopotamia"
    Released: January 27, 1982 (1982-01-27)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau A−[2]

Mesopotamia is an EP by new wave band The B-52s. It was produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads and was intended to be the band's third studio album. Due to conflicts with Byrne and record label pressure, recording sessions were aborted prematurely and only six of ten songs to be completed were released as an EP. The record was distributed as a vinyl record by Warner Bros. in the US and by Island Records on both CD and vinyl in the UK and other non-US markets.

The original Island Records vinyl release in the UK contained different mixes of all the songs, three of which ("Loveland," "Cake" and "Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can") were drastically different and substantially longer than the American release. This was an error, and the LPs were quickly recalled and reissued with the correct versions of Cake and Garbage Can reinstated - however the extended Loveland remained. The Island CD release was the same as the American LP due to the band's request. However, the US release of the CD, a twofer released in 1991 called Party Mix/Mesopotamia, includes a newly remixed version of Mesopotamia that is different to the original US LP (largely panning differences - and in some cases, sounds very different - most obvious on Deep Sleep).

Mesopotamia is considered a departure in style for The B-52s; Byrne and the band inserted a large amount of additional instruments, vocal overdubs, horns, synthesizers, layered percussion and an altogether richer sound. A larger emphasis was placed on production after the raw sound of their debut album The B-52s and the slightly more polished sound of their second album, Wild Planet.

Background[edit]

Mesopotamia was initially conceived by The B-52s in October 1981, following the release of their previous remix album, Party Mix![3] The band's first two albums were largely made up of songs which they had been performing live for a number of years. Thus, Mesopotamia required a new writing project for the band. They have stated that the fact that they were all living together in a house in upstate New York did not aid the writing process at this time.

Their management were of the opinion that the band should try something new and change their sound, so the band and their manager Gary Kurfirst agreed that David Byrne of Talking Heads would be a good choice for the album's producer due to his previous musical experience and history of touring together with The B-52s.[3] Despite constraints with recording The Catherine Wheel soundtrack, Byrne nevertheless agreed to produce Mesopotamia, producing the former during the day and the latter at night, with little sleep in between.[3]

Production[edit]

Although recording had begun for ten songs, the project ended up as a six-song EP. Of the four abandoned tracks, three were re-recorded for the following album, Whammy!.

Mesopotamia was a major departure in style for The B-52s. The band's two previous albums had been more or less true to the live sound that made them favourites of the 70s New York scene, with basic organ, guitar, a keyboard bass and a strong backbeat. Mesopotamia, with Byrne at the Helm, showcased a new sound. This included multi-layered guitars, a horn section, atmospheric synth, complex percussion and various instruments including a bass guitar, marimba, piano and accordion.

Mesopotamia was also vocally unique for the band because many of the tracks do not feature the vocal interplay for which the band is known; in fact, none of the songs feature all three vocalists together (the 3-way dynamic of the vocalists is a central tenet of the band's signature sound.) With two Cindy Wilson solo performances, one solo from Kate Pierson, one Fred Schneider solo, and two duets, the sound was more vocally disjointed than previous recordings. This did, however, showcase the individual talents of the members. The hiring in of numerous session musicians was also a first for The B-52s, although this would be repeated on subsequent albums.

Originally, Mesopotamia was conceived as a full album. Due to extensive pressure on the band to release new material, the sessions were hurriedly brought to an end and the bulk of the material was released as an EP. This is also speculated to be because David Byrne had different ideas for the mixing of the album than the band had anticipated.

There are four known outtakes:

  • "Queen of Las Vegas" – The original version of this song recorded for the intended full Mesopotamia album was released on Nude on the Moon: The B-52's Anthology and features a vocal performance from Pierson and Wilson with Yogi Horton on drums. The song was modified and re-recorded in 1983 for the Whammy! album.
  • "Big Bird" – re-recorded for Whammy!, this original has not been released. However "Big Bird" was included in the band's live set on the Mesopotamia tour and was largely the same as the version made available on the Whammy! album.
  • "Adios Desconocida" – A ballad with lead vocal by Schneider in an uncharacteristically soft and romantic tone, this song was never remade by the band.
  • "Butterbean" – Re-recorded for Whammy!, this original has not been released.

Tour[edit]

In 1982 The B-52s returned to touring. Having been on the road for much of 1978, 1979 and 1980, the band had taken a break in 1981 and were struggling to create new material. With Mesopotamia, they had new material to showcase live. The dynamic of the live show changed slightly since their previous tours. In 1981 the band released the remix album Party Mix! and on the so-called "MesoAmerica" 1982 tour, they used the opportunity to perform updated versions of some of the songs in their live set since they first performed in 1977. Another change in 1982 was the keyboard setup. Kate Pierson no longer stood behind a bass synth perched atop a Farfisa Compact Organ. To achieve the new sound of Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, she used a more sophisticated synthesizer, recreating the organ sounds of their debut, the synth sounds of Mesopotamia and all the time providing the undulating synth bass lines behind the band's signature new wave sound.

During the "Meso-America" tour to support Mesopotamia, live versions of the songs were performed by Cindy Wilson on guitar, bongos and vocals; Fred Schneider on vocals; Kate Pierson on keyboards, bass guitar and vocals; Ricky Wilson on guitars; and Keith Strickland on drums. Saxophones on tour were played by Ralph Carney and trumpet and duck calls by David Buck.

Reception[edit]

The EP was a moderate success, and spawned three single releases, double A-sides "Deep Sleep"/"Nip it in the Bud" and "Cake"/"Loveland" and titular track "Mesopotamia"/"Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can". This was the last B-52s album where every track from an album could be obtained on the a- and b-side of a single (as had happened with The B-52s and Wild Planet).

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Vocals Length
1. "Loveland"   Keith Strickland, Ricky Wilson, Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson C. Wilson 5:05 / 8:35
2. "Deep Sleep"   Strickland, Kate Pierson, Robert Waldrop Pierson 3:30
3. "Mesopotamia"   Robert Waldrop, R. Wilson Pierson, Schneider 3:51
4. "Cake"   Pierson, Strickland, C. Wilson, R. Wilson Pierson, C. Wilson 5:36 / 7:46
5. "Throw That Beat In the Garbage Can"   Schneider, Strickland, R. Wilson Schneider (lead vocal), Pierson (all backing vocals) 4:09 / 5.40
6. "Nip It In the Bud"   Strickland, C. Wilson, R. Wilson C. Wilson 3:32
Total length:
25:43 / 32:54

Notes

  • The album was distributed as a vinyl record by Warner Bros. in the US and by Island Records on both CD and vinyl in the UK and other non-US markets. Of the 6 tracks on the Island Records vinyl, there were three which mistakenly contained the wrong versions of the tracks. These longer and markedly different versions and their presence on some of the records has never been explained. The times given here are for the Warner Bros. and Island Records versions respectively. The unfinished versions did not feature on all Island vinyls, and conversely not all the unfinished versions were featured on the same vinyl.
  • Some copies of the Island Records CD have an incorrect track listing on the back cover. Track 5 is listed as "Lava" (the name of a track on the band's debut album), and tracks 5 and 6 are listed as 6 and 7, respectively. This is due to the last minute decision by Island to release the album as a separate CD from Party Mix; the Warner Bros CD version features both albums. In addition, the Warner Bros CD features 1991 remixes of the tracks from Mesopotamia.

Personnel[edit]

Band

Additional musicians

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1982) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard 200 35
UK Albums Chart 18

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mesopotamia (EP) at AllMusic
  2. ^ "Robert Christgau: Album: B-52's: Mesopotamia". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Sexton 2002, p. 57.

References[edit]