Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bangles reclaim their roots—and it works

Posted By on 10.10.11 at 10:57 AM

The Bangles
  • The Bangles
In my eyes there aren’t many rock band reunions that seem motivated by something other than crass cash-ins or realizations that the individual parts of a group aren’t as successful as the whole. Yes, I’m incredibly cynical about the whole business. Still, sometimes a reupped band can transcend all of that noise and end up making surprisingly listenable music. Tonight the Bangles, who originally formed in Los Angeles three decades ago, play the House of Blues, and while I wouldn’t call their new album Sweetheart of the Sun (Model Music) a work of genius, it finds the band reclaiming many of the things that made me a big fan of their earliest music—their eponymous 1982 five-song debut for I.R.S. and All Over the Place (Columbia, 1984).

The band’s subsequent reach for mainstream success—which they attained for a spell—began with their next record, Different Light and produced hits like “Manic Monday,” “If She Knew What She Wants,” and “Walk Like an Egyptian.” They lost me—although in hindsight I think those tunes are all better than I thought when they were clogging the airwaves—and they soon lost themselves, in a sense, disbanding after releasing one more album. Although I hardly paid attention, they’ve spent much of the last decade reuniting in fits and starts, but Sweetheart of the Sun is the first thing I’ve heard that makes me think of that perfect sound—the sweet, shimmering vocal harmonies, big pop hooks, and chiming guitars—from All Over the Place.

I’d say a little of each of the two motivations I mentioned earlier played into the Bangles initially giving it another try, but these days they seem to have realized they like making music together and the process is no longer tainted by overt commercial concerns. In the press materials for the new record guitarist Vicki Peterson says, “During the course of making this record, we came up with a really nice working method that makes it doable for us and easy to fit in with other aspects of our lives.” Most folks start making music because they enjoy it, not because they aim to be rock stars, and that sense is sometimes lost when a group gets sucked into the music business. The new album was co-produced with Matthew Sweet who’s been working extensively with Susanna Hoffs in recent years, and his penchant for sunny vocal harmonies and crunching guitars suits the Bangles well.

The band covers “Open My Eyes,” the Nuggets-era classic by Todd Rundgren’s Nazz, as well as the obscure Merseybeat gem “Sweet and Tender Romance” by the McKinley Sisters, but most of the performances eschew overt 60s references, opting for a bright pop-rock vibe that’s kind of era-averse. A few of the band’s originals get a touch treacly, but most of the songs are easy on the ears, with the gentle rasp in Hoffs’ delivery nicely offset by the authoritative heft of Vicki Peterson’s guitar and her sister Debbie Peterson’s tough drumming. That's more than enough for me.

Today’s playlist:

Stian Westerhus, Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon)
The Strokes, Angles (RCA)
Michael Formanek, The Rub and Spare Change (ECM)
John Zorn, What Thou Wilt (Tzadik)
Brad Shepik, Across the Way (Songlines)

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