BANGLES: ALL OVER THE PLACE (1984)
1) Hero Takes A Fall; 2) Live; 3) James; 4) All About You; 5) Dover Beach; 6) Tell Me; 7) Restless; 8) Going Down To Liverpool; 9) He's Got A Secret; 10) Silent Treatment; 11) More Than Meets The Eye.
We will not be remembering them for ʽEternal Flameʼ — we will remember them for this album, one of the finest treasures to come out of the «Paisley Underground» and a fine reminder for everyone that it is possible to be retro and innovative, old-fashioned and new-fangled, style-centered and catchy, formulaic and emotional at the same time. Of course, its national and international fame did not really come until Prince arrived on the scene and turned them into gilt-bronze two years later, but who's to be surprised? They don't call it underground for nothing.
All Over The Place was not the Bangles' first release: two years earlier, it was preceded by a five-song self-titled EP, which some critics predictably hail as the Bangles record to abide by — not because it still features original founding mother Annette Zilinskas on bass (soon to be replaced by Michael Steele), but because it is still delightfully lo-fi, released on the aptly titled indie label «Faulty Products» instead of Columbia. However, other than better production, All Over The Place does not really represent any fallbacks from the aesthetics of Bangles — both the EP and the LP even share exactly one cover of an old garage «nugget» (The La De Da's ʽHow Is The Air Up There?ʼ and the Merry Go-Rounds' ʽLiveʼ, respectively), and are best taken together, which would only bring the total length to 44 minutes anyway.
So what's good about these Bangles? First, they really love their guitars: both Susanna Hoffs on rhythm and Vicki Peterson on lead have rich, thick, powerful, and colorful power-pop tones. They like to jangle that stuff (ʽLiveʼ), but they can just as well use it for crunchy purposes (ʽRestlessʼ), or throw in wailing pop riffs that rival their idols, Big Star (ʽGoing Down To Liverpoolʼ). The two have just enough technique to think of various interesting things to do over the instrumental breaks (like the Nashville-influenced guitar break on ʽAll About Youʼ; or the way ʽJamesʼ starts out deceptively as a funk-rocker, only to take a completely different turn ten seconds later and never go back again) — but not enough to engage in empty flash. As light and insubstantial as most of these songs are, these ladies are musicians, not «babes with guitars».
Second and most important, they are excellent B-rate songwriters: B-rate, because all the elements are familiar, and they do not even try to conceal it (ʽI'm In Lineʼ off the EP is built on the ʽTaxmanʼ riff, and God knows how many Beatles or Big Star chord sequences are less openly involved in the other numbers), but excellent, because it never really bothers me — the ingredients are reshuffled expertly and with feeling, the tempos are lively and exciting, and the singing is... well, always nice to hear some simple, happy, ringing, innocent-sounding tones in an era when the female intellectual ideal was defined by the likes of Kate Bush or Siouxsie Sioux — not that I have anything against either, but there is always room for a Susanna Hoffs as well.
Highlights include... just about everything. ʽHero Takes A Fallʼ and ʽJamesʼ are probably the most anthemic and easily memorizable / recognizable songs, although the album as such is more frequently identified with a cover of Katrina and The Waves' ʽGoing Down To Liverpoolʼ — a song that the Bangles took up, colored up with less distortion and more treble, made a little less angry with more melodic singing (drummer Debbi Peterson carries the lead), and they still ended up with a credible rocking attitude. ʽRestlessʼ is more in the blues-rock idiom (with the lead vocal going to the lower-pitched Vicki Peterson here), but pulled off quite credibly; and their janglier, or their country-western-er sides (ʽDover Beachʼ; ʽTell Meʼ) are also delightful.
It all works, because there is not only unbridled love for guitar-based pop rock, expressed here so freely in an age of dance beats and synthesizers, but there is also one thing that prohibits most of today's bands from recreating the Bangles' success: a total lack of fear of being judged too «silly», too «lightweight», too «fluffy» — these songs are innocent and simple in mood and execution, and they have no double bottom or any other secrets to slowly unravel over repeated listenings. But neither does any of this sound like an expertly calculated retro-affair — the girls have been raised on a punk bedrock, after all, and overall, an album like this would have been impossible in the pre-Ramones, or, more accurately, the pre-Patti Smith era: as retro as it is, in terms of character toughness displayed, it clearly belongs to their time.
Actually, come to think of it, All Over The Place is simply timeless — unpretentious high-quality entertainment for the ages, even topped off with a little bit of chamber pop: ʽMore Than Meets The Eyeʼ is a good title to introduce the accappella opening, the Merseybeat-style harmonies, and the modest string quartet that form the album's coda, and show an additional side to the girls' versatility — they not only know their ʽTaxmanʼ but their ʽShe's Leaving Homeʼ as well. Naturally, it's all «fluff» — no deep insights are to be gained or previously unexplored paths unlocked from listening to the Bangles even at their best — but in 1984, it took brains, brawns, and guts to produce this particular kind of fluff. Thumbs up.
Check "All Over The Place" (MP3) on Amazon