BANGLES: EVERYTHING (1988)
1) In Your Room; 2) Complicated Girl; 3) Bell Jar; 4) Something To Believe In; 5) Eternal Flame; 6) Be With You; 7) Glitter Years; 8) I'll Set You Free; 9) Watching The Sky; 10) Some Dreams Come True; 11) Make A Play For Her Now; 12) Waiting For You; 13) Crash And Burn.
There are two things that make Everything feel like an artistic embarrassment: the album cover and ʽEternal Flameʼ. The album cover, because it pictures the Bangles in typical late-Eighties glamor fashion, quite a far cry from the sharp looks earlier in the decade; and ʽEternal Flameʼ, because it is the song on the album to go along with that look. If it weren't to become the girls' greatest commercial achievement, it wouldn't be so heartbreaking. But it was, and it would.
As far as power ballads go, ʽEternal Flameʼ is hardly the worst example. Not only was it not written by Diane Warren (instead, Susanna Hoffs is aided here by the corporate songwriting team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly), it doesn't even begin to properly pick up «power» until half of the song is over, and its vocal melody is at least mildly imaginative; plus, it is actually a nice showcase for Hoffs' vocal range — she is not much of a mighty «belter», but it is technically impressive, at least, how she inflects the chorus in so many varieties.
None of which matters when we take the song in its context. This is not Whitney Houston we are dealing with here — these are the Bangles, America's pride and joy in the realm of colorful guitar-based power pop, and to sing a song like ʽEternal Flameʼ for them means musical prostitution, fair and square. Yes, one could say that the loss of innocence had occurred long before, with the coming of Prince, or maybe even prior to that, with the girlie looks, the make-up, and the coquetterie they had sported from the start, but there are «problems on the way», and then there is the «point of no return», and there is a crucial difference between the two. With ʽEternal Flameʼ, the group commits a travesty that is not easily forgotten — kind of like a vegan accidentally being caught munching on a lamb chop.
It does not even matter that the rest of the album, for the most part, does not even remotely resemble the style of ʽEternal Flameʼ. Although the band relies more heavily on synthesizers than they used to, and, in accordance with the times, goes along with the electronic coating on the drums and a metallized sheen on formerly «clean» guitars, the songs are still mostly in the pop-rock idiom, not too different from the ideology of Different Light or even All Over The Place. After all, the album does not open with ʽEternal Flameʼ — it opens with ʽIn Your Roomʼ, a fun, fast, vivacious, love-struck rocker, and with a psychedelic coda to boot (mid-Eastern flavor for the synths and Revolver-style acid harmonies — whee!). And the rest of the songs generally follow ʽIn Your Roomʼ rather than ʽEternal Flameʼ, just as well.
Michael Steele contributes two jangle-pop numbers, of which ʽComplicated Girlʼ is the lighter one, a fun pop nugget, and ʽGlitter Yearsʼ is the bitter one, with a bit of misplaced nostalgia ("I don't really know how we survived the glitter years" — come now, 1988 was hardly any less «glitter» in essence than 1973). The Petersons rock their hearts out on ʽBell Jarʼ, a song that could have been an easy highlight on an early Blondie album — the chorus is very accurately written in classic Debbie Harry language. Occasionally, songs are quite seriously spoiled by cheesy arrangements (ʽBe With Youʼ), but the catchiness still cannot be denied.
In fact, the only other ballad on the entire album is ʽSomething To Believe Inʼ, whose adult contemporary nature and lack of proper hook (the main melody sounds like an impoverished variation on Paul McCartney's ʽListen To What The Man Saidʼ) only proves further that the Bangles, fortunately for us all, are simply incapable of writing ballads, period. And even more fortunately for us, they do not really try — 11 pop rockers vs. 2 ballads is a ratio that I quite approve of, even if it would have been much better for us all if they'd at least waited until the «grunge revolution» to release these.
My original review for Everything gave it a really low score and complained about the lack of songwriting — presumably, the combined treachery of ʽEternal Flameʼ, hideous hairstyles, and sickening production values went to my unexperienced head: nowadays, it seems that the core structures of these songs do not generally fall behind what used to be. And yet, this does not, per se, make Everything any less of a sellout. Unlike some other artists, the Bangles did not enslave themselves to the industry bosses, but they agreed to a humiliating compromise — with a short-term gain and long-term loss, since the working relationships within the band broke down completely as a result, and the girls parted ways soon after the album's release.
Actually, most of these songs (expectedly) sound much better when they are played live (especially when they make it to the setlists of the reunited Bangles in the 21st century), so, in the end, let us be generous and blame it all on the times, not on the artists. Interestingly enough, the band's big hit from 1987, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's ʽHazy Shade Of Winterʼ that they recorded for the soundtrack of Less Than Zero, did not make it onto Everything — maybe because they intuitively felt how pathetic all of their songs would sound next to the genius of Paul Simon? (Actually, I guess Susanna Hoffs' own biggest hit from 1987 was her underwear dance stint in The Allnighter, but since it was done to the sounds of Aretha Franklin rather than her own songs, there was no place for it on Everything, either. Still gets millions of Youtube views, by the way — true art never dies!).
Anyway, seeing as how I honestly enjoy most of these songs now, I give the album a thumbs up today — a humiliating compromise it is, perhaps, but play it back-to-back with, say, something from late 1980s Heart to see what truly constitutes a genuine nosedive in this sphere: even ʽEternal Flameʼ is miles ahead of ʽWhat About Loveʼ in the taste department.
Check "Everything" (MP3) on Amazon