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Friday, May 31, 2013

Bangles: Different Light

BANGLES: DIFFERENT LIGHT (1986)

1) Manic Monday; 2) In A Different Light; 3) Walking Down Your Street; 4) Walk Like An Egyptian; 5) Standing In The Hall­way; 6) Return Post; 7) If She Knew What She Wants; 8) Let It Go; 9) September Gurls; 10) Angels Don't Fall In Love; 11) Following; 12) Not Like You.

Almost everybody who cares about the Bangles more than about the history of MTV usually speaks of Different Light as a serious step down in overall quality for the band. However, this is «symbolically» true rather than «truly» true. The moderate success of All Over The Place had opened the doors to fame and fortune, and the girls were definitely not above trying it out — they agreed to tour with Cyndi Lauper and eventually attracted the attention of Prince himself, never the one to nonchalantly skip over such a «tasty treat». And this encounter pretty much sealed their fate: once you start taking orders (or even recommendations) from Prince, there is no turning back — besides, considering how niftily Prince managed to remain his own master while at the same time drawing in the big bucks, taking advice from the guy naturally seemed like a big win.

So we have ʽManic Mondayʼ, written by The Artist specifically for the Bangles and released as the first single from their second LP. Is it a good pop song? You bet it is. The little baroque key­board riff that functions as the main melodic hook is unforgettable, as is the vocal melody of the chorus (and if you think that "it's just another manic Monday, I wish it was Sunday, 'cause that's my fun day" is a lame lyric, you probably come from way before the era of Rebecca Black). Is it «an important, progressive development» in the history of Bangles sound? No, it isn't, since it shifts the emphasis away from the poppy, but bite-y electric guitars and the sarcastically intelli­gent atmosphere of that sound — and moves into the kind of territory inhabited by... not even so much by Prince as by Madonna: the "all of my nights..." midsection could very easily be pictured sitting somewhere in the middle of True Blue. Moreover, Susanna Hoffs does her best to sex up her vocals, developing a «bedroom voice» that does sound suspiciously close to Madonna's.

Most albums are usually judged on the strength of their lead single — in this particular case, ʽManic Mondayʼ is not very representative of the rest of the album. First, most of the songs are still originals, composed by Hoffs and the Petersons, or covers of artists you'd expect them to co­ver (Big Star, Jules Shear). Second, the guitars make a loud return on the second track already, and rarely let us down afterwards — and they are good, trusty, jangly Bangl-y guitars, not the ge­neric pop metal crap that ruled over mainstream rock releases in 1986. What does unite these songs with ʽManic Mondayʼ is (a) the production, which feels slicker and more technology-de­pendent than before, and (b) the overall feel — where All Over The Place kicked ass and felt strong and self-assured, Different Light comes across as a spiritual surrender... «...in which the ladies embrace their feminine side and purge their pretty heads of superfluous ideas».

Not totally, of course. New bass player Michael Steele, for instance, gets to contribute ʽFollo­wingʼ, a sparse acoustic ballad (which could have been even more effective, I think, without the unnecessary synthesizer hum in the background) that could serve as a blueprint for most of Ani DiFranco's career: punchy jazz/folk chords, strong, independent vocals, harsh post-breakup lyrics etc. It is not as immediately overwhelming as the big pop hits, but in time, it gets its warranted status of overlooked highlight.

But on the other side of the deal, you have ʽWalk Like An Egyptianʼ — written by Liam Stern­berg, the song is musically innovative (it sounds like a light calypso number turned into a speedy rock anthem at the last moment) and lyrically fun, yet ultimately quite light-headed and trifling: naturally, it ended up becoming one of their largest hit singles, if not the trademark song to be remembered by (particularly since everyone except for Debbi trades lead vocals across the dif­ferent verses). Great stuff for parties, but if you ain't much of a party goer, chances are you will get tired of these friendly hooks fairly quickly.

Nevertheless, far be it from me to call Different Light a «bad» album — «disappointing», yes, but if all «disappointing» albums had this kind of quality, we would have to rethink the meaning of the word itself. Frankly speaking, there are no bad songs here. The Jules Shear cover is irresis­tible, even if the main guitar riff is made to sound like ABBA and Hoffs' vocals are once again done Madonna-style. The interpretation of Big Star's ʽSeptember Gurlsʼ, once again with Steele on vocals, is respectful and well executed (and was quite instrumental, by the way, in restoring Big Star's reputation and earning the struggling Alex Chilton quite a bit in royalties). ʽStanding In The Hallwayʼ, ʽReturn Postʼ, ʽNot Like Youʼ — all of them catchy, fun, enjoyable numbers. Cal­ling them «slick» is probably justified, but if we only get to remember what was really slick in 1986, one of the worst years in mainstream pop music history, Different Light will have no choice but to, well, be seen in a different light.

In other words, the album is nowhere near close to a catastrophe on its own — it sets the girls up for a fall, indicating the inevitably downwards direction their career would take from that point, but the LP itself is well above any devastating criticism, and still a must-have for all lovers of good pop music, though probably not for the average «girl power» fan. Isn't it ironic, really, that Prince was so impressed by one of the girls' punkiest songs (ʽHero Takes A Fallʼ), that it stimula­ted him to write them one of their «girliest» songs — one that they accepted and swallowed up without a hitch? Isn't that much better proof of the man's Mephistophelian powers than whatever Tipper Gore ever spotted in his silly sexist lyrics?.. Oh well, never mind. Sexist, feminist, slutty, or punkish, or both, this is a certified thumbs up in any case.   


Check "Different Light" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Different Light" (MP3) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. "Manic Monday" was the beginning of the end. The rest of the record has it's moments. I can even listen to "Walk Like An Egyptian" once a year without wanting to toss my cookies.

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  2. Is it just me or did Prince totally rip off his own "1999" for the verse melody of "Manic Monday?"

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  3. Just a correction: "Manic Monday" was not originally written for The Bangles. It was written for - and recorded with - Appolonia 6 in 1984 (the outtake version, nearly identical arrangement, is floating around among Prince collectors). So it was a leftover when offered to the group.

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