Cindy Wilson: Change

After forty years in the B52s, Cindy Wilson is struggling with change.

- After forty years at the creative core of The B-52s Cindy Wilson is ready for a Change. Change also happens to be the title of Wilson’s debut full-length solo album released by longstanding independent label Kill Rock Stars. This full-length follows on from a duo of self-released EPs -Sunrise and Supernatural- in 2016 and 2017 respectively. As with these earlier EPs, Wilson is accompanied by a group of fellow Athens, Georgia based musicians: Ryan MonahanLemuel Hayes, and Suny Lyons.

If there was doubt in Wilson’s ability to branch out on her own after so long, album opener People Are Asking puts those anxieties aside, if only for a moment. The track features layers of atmospheric vocals, slow strings, gentle guitar, bright synth and a considerate rhythm section. The combination is instantly reminiscent of Baltimore dreampop band Beach House. The production is great, instruments fill all the right places in the mix and Wilson sounds graceful as she repeats variations on the theme:“All over the world / People are asking / What more can I be?”

Unfortunately, the style of the opening track doesn’t carry on, and things start to fall apart quickly. On Stand Back Time, the front and center of the mix is dominated by a flat four-on-the-floor beat. The bass drum comes to crush many of the more subtle and interesting aspects of the music throughout the album. Wilson’s vocals are still a stand out feature, but the attention to detail shown on the opening track is gone. Eventually the track seems to atrophy completely under its repetitive force, concluding with almost a full minute of instrumental ambience, a trend that appears inexplicably on several tracks, sometimes lasting nearly a full two minutes.

The prominence of repetitive, loud and unexciting beats makes the repetitive and subdued nature of the music a conscious dilemma, an issue which is compounded on the tracks that followThe rhythm section dominates by consistently being the loudest, most constantly present and centered in the mix. On No One Can Tell You the bass line sounds flat and indistinct, the bitcrushed snare drum hits a few too many times in a few too many places, and the bass drum is just too loud.

At times, Wilson is completely lost in the mix and often it feels like her vocals have little importance to what is going on musically. On Things I’d Like To Say an instrumental break of dazzling synths feels forced and isn’t given enough space before the bass drum reasserts itself. The rhythm section and melodic instruments even start to feel at odds with each other, and together they pull attention away from Wilson’s vocals.

Some tracks come close to recapturing a harmonious atmosphere. On Sunrise the drums are still loud, but somewhat more composed alongside a bass line that is considered and full sounding. A crunchy fuzz guitar line comes and goes and the drums don’t stick around too much where they aren’t welcome. When there aren’t too many instruments fighting for attention at the same time, Wilson’s vocals pull the focus back in.

The second last track on the album Brother attempts a grungier sound, reminiscent of some of The B-52s’ darker moments, featuring a whole different palette of familiar sounds (including demonic surf guitar lines). I’m all for changes, but after eight tracks that don’t depart too much from the same pop formula, Brother seems out of place and half-baked. Album closer Memory is somewhat reminiscent of the art-pop of Laurie Anderson, with Wilson providing some last minute conceptual hints:“I live inside this repitition”

Change can be a confusing process and Wilson’s album encapsulates that. She struggles to find a consistent voice, and her attempts at a kind of conceptual cohesion seem overly self-conscious and stifled by the agoraphobic and formulaic production. Sometimes you’ve got to turn and face the strange, but Cindy Wilson hasn’t faced up to that challenge.

- Jaden Gallagher.  

Album Details

Album Title: Change
Artist: Cindy Wilson
Record Label: (Kill Rock Stars / Redeye)