Thursday, October 20, 2011

Following: The Path of The Bangles

Jangling into existence out of the Los Angeles Paisley Underground, The Bangles became the quintessential ‘80’s rock and pop girl group in 1984. This, of course, was in the wake of the The Go-Go’s impending dissolution, their predecessors, a year later in 1985.

Susanna Hoffs, (guitar), sisters Debbi (drums) and Vicki (lead guitar) Peterson, and Michael Steele (bass guitar) in hindsight could rock in a variety of classic and commercial styles. They then would wrap those styles in their warm, four-part harmonies. The Bangles vocalizing was, and is, an integral part of their appeal.

History has tended to write The Bangles off as an MTV-ready doll pack. The release of their fifth long player Sweetheart of the Sun (2011), refutes that they are an '80's relic. The path to Sweetheart has had its share of bumps, including their initial break-up in 1989, reformation in 2003, and departure of bassist Michael Steele recently. Steele’s absence on Sweetheart is not a complete detriment, as will be discussed shortly. Short on a “larger” discography, The Bangles material is one of the most solid album-by-album works by any female oriented grouping or band, as I will now detail.

All Over the Place (1984, Columbia)
Produced By: David Kahne
The official starting point for The Bangles, on a major label, was a nice compromise between the indie and the professional. Kahne’s production keeps the band’s playing up front and center, and that playing was charming and precise. Rollicking feminism emblazons “Hero Takes the Fall” and “Tell Me,” but cooler numbers like the kisses-on-the-wind fun of “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Live” offer a more playful side for listeners as well. Of course, it is their voices that blend so well with the settings and each Bangle gets a lead to shine. Sexy, literate, and brisk, All Over the Place showed itself to be a bright start to a big future.

Highlights: “Hero Takes the Fall,” “James,” “Going Down to Liverpool,” “More Than Meets the Eye”

Featured Video: "Going Down to Liverpool"

Different Light (1986, Columbia)
Produced By: David Kahne
Amazingly, whilst the obvious commercial gleam shone on Different Light, The Bangles still kept their '60's tints and shades present throughout. This is due in fact to The Bangles sharing creative space, versus relinquishing it, to their guest songwriters. Jules Shear (Cyndi Lauper) contributed "If She Knew What She Wants," and Prince (under the alias "Christopher," it was his Parade (1986) era) offered the wispy "Manic Monday." It was the Liam Sternberg cut, "Walk Like an Egyptian," that took The Bangles all over the globe though. There are other trinkets to discover, The Bangles work is just as captivating as the material written for them. "Following" captures their trademark haunting approach, Steele taking the lead on this reflective gem.

Highlights: "A Different Light," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Return Post," "Following"

Featured Video: "Walking Down Your Street"

Everything (1988, Columbia)
Produced By: Davitt Sigerson
An apt title, collecting all the moods The Bangles brought forth in one place: spring curiosity, summer sensuality, autumnal preponderance, and winter catharsis. Sigerson turned up the pop even more, but The Bangles were right along with him. Their playing, with that Paisley spice built into it, didn't allow additional musicians to white out their band sound. With tension in the group boiling underneath the surface, songs such as "I'll Set You Free," "Complicated Girl," and "Crash and Burn" jumped off the record with energy and emotion. Ending on a high note creatively, critically, and commercially, Everything was their last album for 14 years.

Highlights: "In Your Room," "Bell Jar," "Be With You," "Make a Play For Her Now"

Featured Video: "In Your Room"

Doll Revolution (2003, Koch Records)
Produced By: Brad Wood
A reunion too long in the making, Revolution accomplished uniting the garage and contemporary styles in rock and pop as their past albums had. This time, The Bangles handled majority of the songwriting, excluding a raring rocker written by Mr. Elvis Costello: "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)." The input of all four women's words, their respective journeys in love and life are given lush treatments. The saucy stabs in "Nickel Romeo," the lullaby ease in "I Will Take Care of You," and the embrace of solitude in "Single By Choice" were delivered with those vibrant harmonies, still crisp and bold. Arguably, their best record since Everything.

Highlights: "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," "Stealing Rosemary," "Nickel Romeo," "Single By Choice"

Featured Video: "Something That You Said"

Sweetheart of the Sun (2011, Waterfront Records)
Produced By: The Bangles, Matthew Sweet
Surprising and bittwersweet, this newest entry into The Bangles discography is an even stronger homage to their Paisley Underground roots than ever before. Sadly, Michael Steele did not return to the fold, leaving Vicki and Debbi Peterson, and Susanna Hoffs to soldier on as a trio. Steele's smoky voice doesn't go unnoticed in its absence, but the remaining members pick up slack, with aplomb. Instant and memorable favorites such as "Under a Cloud," lead single "I'll Never Be Through With You," and "Circles in the Sky" will delight the faithful and the newly converted. Stepping into production duties with Matthew Sweet, The Bangles alternate between guitar crunch and melodic sweetness, the former is emphasized moreso by the conclusion of Sweetheart.-QH

Highlights: "Under a Cloud," "I'll Never Be Through With You," "Circles in the Sky," "Open My Eyes"

Featured Video: "I'll Never Be Through With You," live, Washington D.C., The 9:30 Club

[Editor's Note: For more information on The Bangles, visit]


Diva Incarnate said...

I was re-visiting Liverpool the other night - blue-sky jangly pop par excellence. It really sets sail with their harmonies, but of course it is Debbie hear who makes it so irresistibly wistful and imaginative.

1984 was such an iconic year for pop - the year I was born as well.

I really don't know their albums, so might return here to give me an idea where I want to go next, but if I'm honest only really love a few of the singles.

Any reason you omit Eternal Flame? The challenge was to write a "better" song than Cyndi's Unconditional Love apparently as Hoff's wanted it for her band. The video is gorgeous and it's hazy (pun not intended) focus reminds me of Massive Attack's Teardrop (just go with me on that one).

I've got Hoff's solo debut somewhere, but have never listened to it. She eventually did cover Unconditional Love, and it's a nice version - for me it's very strong until it does literally have "no sense of direction". There were so many strong, slightly off-centre female voices in pop/rock back then: Cyndi, Stevie, Belinda, Susanah, and even Roxette's Marie. Where have they all went?

QH said...

There were many songs I wanted to include, as to be honest, each of these records is unique unto itself. EF was not so much omitted, as I wanted to touch on a broader range for the girls, and bring to light (no pun intended) some of their lesser known works, and favorites. Everybody knows EF, lol.

Now. In terms of this UL thing between Cyndi and The Bangles, the time table doesn't add up. "Everything" came out in 1988, a year before ANTR. Rather, at that time ANTR was under the title of "Kindred Spirit," and was tied into the "Vibes" film with "Hole..."& you know the rest. Maybe it does add up now that I think about it, lol.

But, to be frank, that was a part of what kind broke The Bangles up the first go round. Too much interference from some outside writers. Granted, some of the outside stuff was great, but they could write their own work, as their albums attest.

I own Ms. Hoffs' first album, and it's ok. I heard the follow-up is better, I'm still trolling for that one. Her version of UL isn't nearly as neon and emotional as Cyndi's though. Most the women you've mentioned are still, and have been, active for sometime. Thanks for reading as always.-QH

Moanerplicity said...

Always felt they were more talented than their counterpart chick group (The Gogo's). Maybe it was the quality of the songs (Prince letting them have "Manic Monday" certainly didn't hurt their creds) or their musicianship, or perhaps the degree of Susannah's hotness vs Belinda's. But whatever it was, it's nice to see them back again & in good fighting shape as well.


Diva Incarnate said...

Here is an interview (just search for unconditional love), it doesn't have the quote I was after, but it comes straight from the horses mouth (not Hoffs, lol).

Oh, my phrasing wasn't quite right - I meant to say that the batch of female MTV hoggers aren't a match for the vocal pedigree of the 80s. I guess we have Pink and Kelly Clarkson, but the big hitters like Rihanna and Katy are more grapplers with what they've got.

Diva Incarnate said...

QH said...

@ Moaner:

I'm fans of both groups. The Go-Go's are seminal and groundbreaking. And they actually tended to have some really strong work, "Talk Show" (1984) is a firm favorite of mine from them. I just think they weren't as, for lack of a better term, moody as The Bangles were.

Then again some thought The Bangles were just fluff, which is completely not the case.

@ Diva Inc.:
Thanks! I want to check that out sometime today!

un_taco said...

This is the second positive review of the latest Bangles album, I'll have to check it out.