The Bangles step back in time to glue the broken shards back together. So effective...
Bren O'Callaghan 2003-03-21
Showing up fashionably late to board the good ship Revival, The Bangles (Susanna Hoffs, Michael Steele and sisters Debbi and Vikki Peterson), return with their fourth album Doll Revolution. Aided by the starched hair sisterhood of punk-lite amigos The Go-Go's, these two bands, more than any others, span the often unspeakably wide divide between the likes of The Shangri-Las and (splutter), more contemporary lady line-ups such as Atomic Kitten.
Spilling forth from the LA West Coast vibe in 1981, a veritable jungle of pearl guitars and pewter jewellery, debut album All Over The Place introduced a defining sensibility for luxuriant harmonies together with a perceptible nod to the Merseybeat sound.
It wasn't until second album 'Different Light', shaped by the-artist-once-more-known-as-Prince, that chart hits ''Manic Monday'' and ''Walk Like An Egyptian'' all but eclipsed a rich diversity of influence for anaesthetised if affable pop. In the resulting media scramble to deify lead vocalist Hoffs at the expense of the other members, a protracted she-scrap led to the collapse of the group. With the exception of Steele, the rest would pursue various solo projects with muted degrees of success. But not before parting hit ''Eternal Flame'' exploded at the top of the charts in a shower of (bought-in) orchestral strings.
So what we knew as the rise of The Bangles was actually a steady disintegration from their original remit. Having patched up past-wrongs and exhausted raw ambitions (most noticeably Hoffs made a run for screen stardom, stumbled, and fell), 'Doll Revolution' is a fascinating autopsy of parts. The title track itself is a cover of an Elvis Costello track (perfectly suited to the band's disposable/credible schism), while individual members have contributed songs intended for spin-off performance; here 'Banglecized' to form a cohesive whole.
Current single ''Something That You Said'' eases cautious fans into a sense of security, belonging as it does to an MTV world in which muslin curtains billow to the sound of the power-ballad Top 20. Yet it's the less obvious hits that reward on repeat inspection. ''Stealing Rosemary'' could well have fallen from the mouths of The Mamas & Papas, while "Ride the Ride" is a Beatles hit that never was - replete with involuntary bowl cut shimmy-shake. For those of us who wish life could always coast upon the giddy high of the closing credits following some 80s brat pack flick, ''Lost at Sea'' - a collaboration between Susannah and Debbie - includes all the mellow tambourine loveliness you should require... and then some.
Importantly, Hoffs now stands shoulder to shoulder with her colleagues, no more and no less, sharing vocal duties and issuing a parting solo with ''Grateful'': an apparent homage to all things Bangles, and humble to a point. Drinking at the same hippie well that nourished The Byrds, Liz Phair and yes, even the The Dixie Chicks, The Bangles step back in time to glue the broken shards back together. So effective have they been, you can hardly see the cracks.