The Bangles

All Over The Place (Columbia ‘84) Rating: A-
Before they became known for novelty hits and syrupy ballads, The Bangles were a tough all-female band that rocked, though they also had a keen pop sense right from the start. Hailing from and breaking out of L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, The Bangles sounded like a post-punk British Invasion band with a Merseybeat guitar jangle and airy vocal harmonies. The plain truth is that The Bangles were just too damn good looking to be taken seriously by a sexist industry. The artistic repercussions of that would come later, though, because this rough gem of a debut album was a consistently strong collection that was more in line with the band’s live sound than anything on their glossy, compromised (the girls would later admit as much to Goldmine magazine) later recordings. Boasting sharp guitar parts and a propulsive beat, these eleven songs are poppy but rugged, and catchy but with a kick. As a testament to their talent, all four band members could play and sing, though sexy Suzanna Hoffs did the lions share of the lead singing and guitarist Vicki Peterson penned most of the songs, sometimes with Hoffs. Lyrically, The Bangles let it be known that they know that “something’s going on” (and that “something” isn’t good) and that they’ll take no guff from any man who is (inevitably) letting them down (again). A sparkling cover of Katrina and the Waves’ “Going Down To Liverpool” is the album’s high point, while “Hero Takes A Fall” is arguably the best of the band’s own consistently strong songwriting efforts. Alas, despite subsequent chart successes, The Bangles were rarely this good ever again.

Greatest Hits (Columbia ‘90) Rating: B+
Taking only two tracks from All Over The Place (“Hero Takes A Fall,” “Going Down To Liverpool”), the best of The Bangles’ three albums, this collection captures most of the best of the rest of The Bangles’ catalogue up to that point, making it a nice companion piece. Greatest Hits takes five songs from Different Light, their commercial peak, including the slight keyboard pop of the Prince-penned “Manic Monday,” Jules Shear’s “If She Know What She Wants,” and the wacky novelty number “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a #1 hit (and yes I’m doing the Egyptian dance as I write this). “Walking Down Your Street” is another infectious song, though its submissive attitude is a far cry from the band’s tougher earlier stance, while Michael Steele (sadly underrepresented here) takes center stage briefly on the acoustic ballad “Following.” By Everything The Bangles were an altogether slicker, commercial sounding unit who were looking for hits, as their lush, keyboard-laced arrangements and an over-reliance on songwriting collaborations and cover songs took them far away from their original conceit. They found their smash hit with “Eternal Flame,” a mushy ballad that’s saved by Suzanna Hoffs’ strong vocal performance, while “In Your Room” offered up admittedly catchy synth pop. Also included here is a great cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter,” which originally appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack. This rocking version, and the previously unreleased “I’ll Set You Free,” hark back to the band’s harder-edged early days before an uneventful cover of the Grass Roots’ “Where Were You When I Needed You” closes things out. Despite some key song omissions (most notably “James” and their cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls”), Greatest Hits stands as a fitting goodbye from an underrated group who knew when to call it a day. Update: Not so fast, as the band regrouped and released Doll Revolution to so-so reviews in 2003.

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