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Friday, June 14, 2013

Bangles: Doll Revolution

BANGLES: DOLL REVOLUTION (2003)

1) Tear Off Your Own Head; 2) Stealing Rosemary; 3) Something That You Said; 4) Ask Me No Questions; 5) The Rain Song; 6) Nickel Romeo; 7) Ride The Ride; 8) I Will Take Care Of You; 9) Here Right Now; 10) Single By Choice; 11) Lost At Sea; 12) Song For A Good Son; 13) Mixed Messages; 14) Between The Two; 15) Grateful.

Unfortunately, this is not quite the comeback one could hope for. You know how it sometimes works: good band digs up fine formula, then sells out to silly cheesy trends and fads, then breaks up, then comes back again with a cleared-up head, ready to tackle fine formula once again with extra added maturity and professionalism at the expense of youthful excitement and freshness — solid four stars as compared to the original five.

Doll Revolution, too, could be expected to work that way. Surely, if the Bangles had any reason to overcome their personal problems and reconvene, it wouldn't be to recreate their glossy mid-to-late Eighties sound — not now, not in the early 2000s, with the garage rock revival in full swing? And since they never really lost their songwriting skills, not even on Everything — they simply yielded to external pressure that required mainstream-oriented acts to rely on corporate writers — couldn't we hope for yet another ʽHero Takes A Fallʼ, twenty years on?

Unfortunately, no. The first song on the album inspires confidence: energetic mid-tempo, pul­sa­ting bass, nicely distorted garage guitars, catchy vocals, aggressive bite-me delivery, and clever lyrics. Then it turns out that the song is actually an Elvis Costello cover, taken from his When I Was Cruel album from the preceding year. That in itself is not a problem — better Elvis Costello than Prince, at least if you're a Bangle. The problem is that nothing else on Doll Revolution even begins to come close in matching that level of energy and vivaciousness.

The first single off the album, and the only one that made even the tiniest ripple on some Euro­pean charts (but not in the US), was ʽSomething That You Saidʼ — a nostalgic trip to the realm of 1980s synth-pop, with Hoffs' creaky, but still sexy, vocals adorned by drum machines and elec­tronics a-plenty; no «power ballad» aspects here as there were on ʽEternal Flameʼ, but melodical­ly and mood-wise, the song is even cornier. Again, there is nothing else here that sounds the same way, yet the commercial calculation is clear — the song was designed to appeal to contemporary dance-pop and soft-rock radio stations, almost as if someone really thought there might be a good reason for somebody to be interested in this shit coming from such a relic of the past.

Everything else here is stuck in between the two extremes — nothing is either as fun as the rol­licking, snappy title track or as irritating as the barren romance of the synth-pop non-hit. The songs generally fluctuate between smooth-flowing, even, not too exciting jangle-pop (much of which is sung by Debbi and Vicki) and slower, not too exciting ballads (many of them sung by Susanna). The level of spice-and-spunk is so low, really, that some of the tunes may easily be mistaken for a Christine McVie solo project (ʽHere Right Nowʼ) — nothing awful about it, but hardly the rightest choice for the Bangles, who, at their best, always had some sharp claws hidden behind the furry-purry surface.

Lyrics-wise, most of the songs are equally «plain» — simple love messages, sometimes with a little bit of flailing of the male hero, sometimes with a few tears over some faraway breakup; one tune, ʽSingle By Choiceʼ, credited solely to Vicki, comes across as very strange — the con­fi­dent­ly delivered message ("single by choice, never marry, never ever divorce") sounds a bit weird in the context of our knowledge that "Peterson married musician John Cowsill on 25 October 2003" (i. e. less than two months after the release of the album). Unless the whole thing is supposed to be ironic, but it honestly doesn't come off that way. Weird.

Overall, the whole thing sounds... nice, which is certainly not enough of a reason to justify this comeback, because the jangle-pop market in the 2000s is so huge anyway. Sure, the production (other than on ʽSomething That You Saidʼ) is tasteful, the girls' voices still sound vibrant (although Su­sanna's has thinned out a wee bit), and the songs are not too poorly written. But the album is also overlong — at sixty minutes, it could have certainly used some trimming — and monotonous: as far as unpredictability is concerned, I miss a ʽWalk Like An Egyptianʼ or some such adorable genre twist in between all the jangly sweetness.

On the other hand, there is no question that it could have been much, much worse, and that true Bangles fans will not be disappointed — at least, not completely disappointed — by what has been offered. And an album that loyally preserves a firm link to the legacy of Big Star and Fleet­wood Mac cannot be a complete failure in any case. Just don't call it Doll RevolutionDoll Mummification would probably be closer to the truth.


Check "Doll Revolution" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Doll Revolution" (MP3) on Amazon

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