A couple years ago, I remember seeing both the Bangles and Go-Go’s as separate subjects of VH-1’s “Behind the Music” wages-of-excess series. Both outings ended on the requisite upbeat note: telling nostalgic new wavers that the two girl groups had re-formed and were putting together new material.
It was Belinda and co. who first came out with new product: last year’s God Bless the Go-Go’s, a nicely tough-edged collection that owed as much to the band’s punk roots as it did the retro pop sound that sold their 80’s hits. Now the Bangles have followed suit with their reunion disc, Doll Revolution (Koch), and it’s better than I know I expected. Between these two groups and the Buzzcocks, I’m reassessing my stance on rock reunions.
As a band, the Bangles generally stuck to the folk-rock side of the Cali pop street: a little Grass Roots here (even did a remake of “Where Were You When I Needed You?”), some Association there (what was “Eternal Flame” but a rewrite of “Never My Love”?) The new release doesn’t alter this much: though it opens with a rockin’ version of the title cut (one of the more enduring racks from Elvis Costello’s When I Was Cruel), it quickly settles into VH-1 friendly poppery. Gossamer harmonies a-plenty, throaty vocals by all four Bangles, economical but memorable electric and acoustic guitarwork, plus lots of prominately mixed drumming.
Several tracks in particular stand out: Vicki Petersen’s rueful “Rain Song” makes ample use of her yep-I’ve-been-there voice, while her “Single By Choice” delivers its forthright sentiments with a (relative) starkness that stands out from the band’s usual sonic sweetenings. Michael Steele’s “Song for A Good Son” is a surprisingly grim folk ballad that lyrically sneaks up on you, while “Mixed Messages” sounds like something Christine McVie could’ve sung during her band’s peak. “Nickel Romeo” provides the best showcase for the band’s “Going Down to Liverpool” sixties-styled airiness, while “Ride the Ride” propulsively resuscitates eighties dance rock guitar. Even the inevitable too-pretty Susanna Hoffs love song, “Something That You Said,” provides a good vehicle for the big-eyed flirt, though it would’ve been cooler if they’d chosen a less obvious track for the disc’s first video.
Back when those “Behind the Music” eps first aired, if you’d asked me which of the two 80’s hitmakers would’ve come up with the better reunion album, I probably wouldn’t have said the Bangles. Yet, cut for cut, Doll Revolution is as strong as All Over the Place, the band’s underrated pre-video-hits long-player. Let’s hear it for pop surprise and the doll revolution. . .
ADDENDUM: Almost skipped mentioning a limited edition bonus DVD that’s included. It contains the “Something That You Said” video plus tracks of the group’s first zippy single from 1981 (back when they were calling themselves the Bangs). Both cuts are enjoyably unpolished and energetic – sound like something that might’ve collected on a Girls in the Garage collection. Definitely worth snagging before the “limited” is reached. . .
(Note: Last July, a Blogcritics piece announcing the American release of this disc contained a cut-by-cut review of the import. The import edition contains the two Bangs tracks as bonus cuts on the album disc and does not include the DVD extras.)