Friday, 30 March 2012

The Bangles - Sweetheart of the Sun

The one thing you could not accuse The Bangles of is being prolific when it comes to output.  Since their reformation in 2000 they have only managed two albums, the quite wonderful and still my fav Bangles album ever, ‘Doll Revolution’ (2003) and now ‘Sweetheart of the Sun’.  In fact, I nearly missed ‘Sweetheart’ completely as having been tipped off as far back as 2010, or was it 2009, that it was ‘imminent’, I’d mentally gone to sleep and only spotted that it had finally been released at the back end of last year when trawling through Amazon.

So was it worth the wait?  In truth, yes, but with caveats.  In a nutshell, it starts well with the mid-tempo ‘Anna Lee’, rather loses its way in the middle and then picks up again towards the end. So 8/9 of the 12 songs are fine but the remaining few are a bit under whelming.  Whilst this is undoubtedly a fine album, I can’t help missing the quirky and sombre-voiced contributions from bassist Michael Steele, who has retired from the music biz and does not appear on this album, the first not to feature her.  The result is that the remaining three chop up song writing and vocal chores amongst them and each gets a bigger slice of the pie.

Certainly, Susanna, Vicki and Debbi have more compatible writing styles which means that the album as a whole sounds more consistent and the majority of the songs are classic west coast jangly pop at its best, but it does miss the experimental and slightly more edgy contribution that Steele brought to the table.  Interestingly, it seems that drummer Debbi Peterson has taken on part of her mantle and produced some of the more interesting songs such as the delightfully poignant ‘One of Two’.  Elsewhere, you can always rely on Susanna Hoffs to produce a one or two decent ballads and Vicki Peterson to chip in a couple of individual efforts and provide those curious sub-Neil Young blustery solos.

In fact the self-written material is generally very good but it’s the covers that let the side down, which is unusual as the band are very adept at covering others’ material.  This time around, we have Todd Rungren’s ‘Open My Eyes’ (originally recorded by The Nazz in 1968) and Carter-Lewis and the Southerners’ ‘Sweet Tender Romance’ (from 1963) which are given the usual Bangles-o-risation treatment, but sadly these are not a patch on past covers like ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’, ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘If She Knew What She Wants’.

Musically, the album is dominated by two pervading influences: country rock and the aura of the late sixties.  Some of the songs have a countrified feel with pedal steel guitar and folksy harmonies; others have a definite psychedelic lilt with Indian tinged guitar figures and the ghost of Jefferson Airplane and Love hovering over them.  The penultimate song on the album, the beautiful ‘Through Your Eyes’ could quite easily have been lifted from the sessions for Crosby Stills and Nash’s 1969 debut such are the awesome vocal harmony arrangements.  Time has not dimmed those voices and they still harmonise with real aplomb.

So whilst not quite as diverse as its predecessor, ‘Doll Revolution’, this album is still a worthwhile addition to the Bangles’ catalogue.  It shows a determined move away from trying to ‘modernise’ their sound and instead it builds on their strengths of strident retro guitars and Beach Boy harmonies and reinforces their modern psychedelic take on today’s music structures, evoking a late sixties mood which I rather like.  In truth it is still growing on me.  A keeper.

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