Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Return to Bangleonia

There are some bands that seem destined to be consistently misrepresented by their own publicity and ultimate success.

Take Californian all-girl band, The Bangles for example. You will probably know this lot for one or more of the following 1980s tunes:
'Manic Monday'
'Walk Like an Egyptian'
'Eternal Flame'

All these songs have two factors in common. First they are all, in large part, sung by Susanna Hoffs and second, they are all songs that I, as a fan, probably wouldn’t turn a hair if I never heard again – with the possible exception of 'Eternal Flame' provided it is not the Atomic Kitten version. But sadly they are basically the public face of The Bangles giving the distinct impression of a somewhat dippy lightweight west coast pop band led by Hoffs and backed up by a bunch of unknown others.

But it’s not true. Have a look at their albums, any of them, and what do we find? An endless selection of kooky ballads sung by Susanna Hoffs? No. What we find is a diversity of pop ballads, folksy 1960s psychedelia, gutsy rockers and vocal harmony tour-de-forces all written by Vicki or Debbie Peterson, Susanna Hoffs and Michael Steele in roughly equal proportion and a sprinkling of well arranged covers. The lead vocals are split democratically between all four of them and each makes a substantial case for being the lead vocalist per se whilst the others provide multi-harmony backing. My particular favourite is drummer Debbie Peterson who brings a real edge to her vocal chores.

In fact, all their 1980s albums contain a whole swathe of up-tempo rockers (usually contributed by Vicki Peterson, the senior songwriter) where jangling or spiky guitars meet Debbie’s pounding drums. My guess is that many people who bought these albums were a little taken aback, given their PR.

It is a sad fact that it was the public perception that Hoffs was the band leader (and by implication the ‘talented one’) that drove a knife through them and split them up in 1989. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Live on stage the truth becomes apparent. Live, they are one of the most enjoyable bands I have ever seen and I saw them three times during the 1980s. Check out their new DVD ‘Return to Bangleonia’ (Region 1 only, sadly) which features their reunion gig in 2000, and you will see what I mean. What this tells of is a versatile, entertaining band comprising four consummate musicians who sing and play beautifully, but who, more importantly, contribute equally to the greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts whole. Moreover, the quality of the bulk of the set transcends the ‘Hits’ and makes you begin to wonder why the buying public support the sort of kitsch that is ‘Walk like an Egyptian’.

Hmm…it seems singles have a lot to answer for.

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