After the solid one-two punch of B-52's and Wild Planet the B-52's found themselves needing to write new material and pondering which musical direction to go. The Party Mix / Mesopotamia EP bought the band time to write and record new material for what would become "Mesopotamia". At the urging of their manager, Gary Kurfirst, the band opted to try a new musical direction with longtime friend and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne producing. The band could just have easily have kept churning out new iterations of the first two albums but eventually that would get stale and pigeonhole them. Work began in earnest in Fall of 1981 but it quickly became apparent that the pressures of creating new material, conflicts with Byrne, and pressure from their label ground the recording to a halt. Rather than completing a full length album what resulted from the sessions was a six-song EP, "Mesopotamia". Confusing things further were two different releases of the EP, the Warner Brothers version, which is showcased here and which is the most commonly heard version, and the Island Records version released in the U.K. which features some entirely different longer versions of the songs. These two different versions confused and confounded critics and fans alike, fueling rampant speculation about what had gone wrong between the band and Byrne and why an EP was the result and not a full third studio album.
All of that controversy aside, "Mesopotamia" certainly was a departure for the B-52's. Rather than the guys vs. girls vocals on their first two albums "Mesopotamia" turned into gender separation of vocals, aside from "Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can". Fred Schneider certainly does get short shrift here as that's one of only two tracks with his vocals, the other being the title track. Cindy Wilson gets two solo tracks ("Loveland" and "Nip it in the Bud") with Kate Pierson getting one solo ("Deep Sleep") and the two harmonize together on the delightful "Cake". Overall "Mesopotamia" is swathed in a moody, dreamy, dark, atmospheric, multi-instrumental swirl largely of Byrne's creation, much like he would later do with Fun Boy Three's Waiting. Ricky Wilson's surf rock inspired guitar work punctuates throughout but is often mixed in with synthesizers and synth bass in a most curious fashion. Rather than the stripped down feel of the first two albums Byrne adds multiple additional musicians and instruments to augment the band and punch up the rhythm. The result is much more obviously danceable tracks that almost approach the polyrhythmic intensity of the Talking Heads Remain In Light and Speaking in Tongues. The opening track "Loveland" is a beautiful Cindy Wilson powered track that perhaps best showcases how well Byrne's influences work here. The chugging rhythm propels things along punctuated by Ricky's wonderful guitar work, building to a crescendo with Cindy's vocals going into the stratosphere. The dark brooding almost wordless cooing of "Deep Sleep" shows the almost otherworldly influence of Byrne, sounding almost like a lost Talking Heads track. The hilarious give and take between Fred and Kate on "Mesopotamia" summons up flashbacks of past B-52's classics and were it not for the Byrne influenced synths it wouldn't be out of place on the first two albums. "Cake" is hands down my favorite track with the perfect call and response vocals between Cindy and Kate with their wickedly delicious double-entendres. Again, minus the Byrne backing this could easily have been on the first two albums. "Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can" has some truly hilarious lines delivered by Fred with his usual panache. Closing things out is the raucous "Nip it in the Bud", all of which leaves the listener longing for more.
It turns out there was more, but it's only recently seen the light of day. Much like the first two albums the band wrote a large amount of material, except in this case they intended it for Mesopotamia but wound up using rejected tracks on their next album Whammy. The "Mesopotamia" version of "Queen of Las Vegas" turned up on Nude On The Moon: The B-52's Anthology pointing towards how the band truly could have come up with a full album. On their Meso-American tour in 1982 the band also played "Big Bird" which subsequently was recorded for Whammy and a version of "Butterbean" was also apparently cut but likewise has never been released. More than likely the band felt these three songs weren't quite ready or complete and perhaps that's what stalled the recording at the time. Needless to say "Mesopotamia" was something of a dividing point for B-52's fans with some hating it and some loving it. I fall firmly in the latter. Seeing them for the first time on the Meso-American tour I immediately knew I was in the presence of kindred spirits, and their versions of songs from "Mesopotamia" were quite faithful. It's a shame that in later years they've rarely played tracks from this EP as they're truly delightful and undoubtedly part of the B-52's canon. I can only hope that one day we'll hear the full length version of "Mesopotamia" in some form or fashion. For now hardcore fans have to cobble together what they can from what leaked out and create their own theories. "Mesopotamia" was the beginning of a wanderlust journey for the band as they latched onto and rejected various musical styles. The intense Byrne influenced stylings here would give way to the Spartan New Wave Steve Stanley produced Whammy, another departure in style for the band; certainly not their first and certainly not their last!