It all started about four years ago when Cindy Wilson was on a break from touring with her band of 40 years, the B-52s. She and a musical acquaintance from Athens, Ryan Monahan of Easter Island, started toying around with some new song ideas.
One might assume that Wilson would come into the studio with her singular vision and enforce total creative control. But just the opposite was true.
“The term ‘solo project’ is a misnomer,” she says. “I have been working with Ryan and [producer-musician] Suny [Lyons of Pacific UV]. They bring the music in . . . It’s really fabulous.”
Her new album Change — officially released today and celebrated tonight with a performance at the historic 40 Watt Club in her hometown of Athens, GA — begins with a placid pulse that transports the listener to a moody ether lined by Wilson’s breathy vocals. Beneath her, the individual contributions of each band member shine through.
After a few writing sessions with Monahan and Lyons, Wilson says the style and aesthetic of the project really started to take shape. Finding sounds and arrangements was partially driven by trying to “make [their] own inventive and original sound.”
The first three songs on the album establish a poignant version of space disco. But never judge an album solely by its opening tracks. “Personally, I’m obsessed with Tame Impala,” Wilson says. “I love strong guitars. I like good melodies, vocal melodies, harmonies. I like a little psychedelia . . . You know, people don’t put B-52s in the psychedelic category, but I really think B-52s were totally psychedelic.”
And she’s right: they were more psychedelic than most remember, and Change reinforces Wilson’s impulse to transcend by evoking vivid mental imagery through sound. “Things I’d Like to Say,” a cover of the 1969 soft-rock classic by New Colony Six, begins by harking back to the grooviness and musical artistry of ’60s flower power, but the ending has a soaring beauty that is only found in post-rock. The fifth track, “Mystic,” captures listeners with the expected catchy synthesizer hook, pounding beat and strong vocals. (As the pulse continues, your head may swivel off your neck with the amount of bobbing the track induces.)
The album confidently holds its own as a truly novel piece of music and a solid record. But when asked how she feels about hitting the road again like a 20-year-old gypsy in a van that stops at the grimiest, dirtiest dives, Wilson says, “I’m loving it. I get to start over again. It’s like with the B-52s and how we started. A lot of times it doesn’t happen, to be that lucky again.”
Wilson doesn’t play the jaded rockstar card. She says she loves the experience. She loves the music. And she still loves performing. “You write the song, and you record it,” she says, “but to make it really come alive you have to do it every night for people. And the show is wonderful. It’s multimedia. It flows. It’s really beautiful. It’s really eloquent.”
Her love of beauty and elegance — and Tame Impala — come to fruition on her self-proclaimed favorite track at the moment, “On the Inside.” Swaying strings are complemented by a confident, oscillating bass line. Everything is tickled by percussive touches and electronic manipulation. Beyond the tidal wave of sound and texture, Wilson’s classic voice and strongly constructed melody place her atop it all like a power-pop queen in white.
And the rightful heir she is. With Change, Cindy Wilson brings to the world a great new record. It’s not a recycled, reformatted version of the B-52s. Her dream orchestral instrument, clarinet, makes no appearance. She never reverts to her “spirit-animal” talent of bongo playing, and she doesn’t solely focus on strong guitar work.
Perhaps that’s because, as she says, “It’s a band . . . They’re partners. It’s the real deal, man.”
Wilson’s lack of rock star ego and deep love of music are both embodied in her first major solo effort outside of the B-52s. “Usually, the older musician teaches the younger, but it’s the opposite here,” she joyfully and humbly proclaims. “It’s been a school for me, and I’m loving it.”