Sunday, February 8, 2015

All Over The Place: All Bangles Are Equal (But Some Bangles Are More Equal Than Others)

World's greatest pop culture myths:
  1. Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen in a chamber beneath Disneyland
  2. Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich
  3. Susanna Hoffs was the lead singer of the Bangles
"Could've fooled me," you're inclined to say. "Then what the hell was she, the maid?"

When the Bangles originally started out, Susanna Hoffs was not the lead singer. See, the Bangles didn't believe in a lead singer. They were a utopian collective, a four-woman Woodstock Nation, where everyone played a part, and where all those rigid patriarchal roles were for losers. Well, Susanna was one of the lead singers, along with Vicki Peterson, although Michael and Debbie occasionally sang lead and often chipped in on harmonies. The point is, in the early days, it was definitely not "Susanna Hoffs and these other chicks" (by contrast, Belinda Carlisle was, is, and will always be, without question, the lead singer of the Go-Go's). You'd think the public would've just let the Bangles be.

At the time of their debut long player, however, no one cared. The general consensus is that, as with the Go-Go's, the Bangles' first album was their best, but unlike the Go-Go's, it wasn't exactly their most ... commercially successful. Nope, All Over the Place peaked at #80 instead of #1, but for many fans of the Paisley Underground sound, All Over the Place is the Bangles' only real album; to these hardcore party liners, everything after this was just shameless pop sleaze. Unfortunately for them, I like shameless pop sleaze. But yes, even though I haven't actually listened to the Bangles' other albums, I doubt they're better than this one.

All Over the Place works as an album. It does contain a couple of singles, but it doesn't feel like it was conceived with singles in mind. Mostly it's just a non-stop retro '60s Hofner and Rickenbacker fiesta, with the band aping every Standells and Easybeats B-side they could get their hands on. That said, it still has a punchy New Wave/power-pop production that sounds very much like its time, i.e. it's obvious what kind of music the Bangles were into, but they updated it and gave it their own energetic twist. I do wonder, however, if there are bands who were genuinely influenced by the Bangles. Wouldn't you just be influenced by the Bangles' influences? It's like a band being influenced by Coldplay instead of Radiohead.

For all its charms, I feel like All Over the Place is more about the surface pleasures. If the lyrics don't exactly blow me away, they're effective enough, but I don't quite get a sense of the Bangles as people: what are their struggles, what drives them to make music, etc. I mean who are the Bangles, really? That said, one of the more appealingly enigmatic songs is the album's leadoff track and first single, "Hero Takes a Fall," which, incidentally, is one of the tracks where Susanna sings lead.  She sounds like she's anticipating a nice plate of schadenfreude for a serial womanizer:
The hero is exposed when
His crimes are brought to the light of day
Won't be feeling sorry, sorry, sorry
On the judgement day
Wasn't it me who said
There'd be a price to pay

And I won't feel bad at all
When the hero takes a fall
When the hero takes a fall

Your mother told you stories
You substitute with girls who tell you more
Suddenly your sycophants are chanting
Slogans at your door
We're seeing through you now
I saw it all before

Emotion is a virtue
For you it is the one fatal flaw
Sittin' on your throne and drink and think and
Should return your call
And the story's got an ending
Look out, here it comes, here it comes
In the video, the girls are playing for alms on the street corner, and Susanna is wearing triangles for earrings. No, I mean, like, actual triangles - the musical instrument. Vicki probably could play "Hero Takes a Fall" on Susanna's earrings. As Ms. Hoffs bemoans in the band's Behind the Music episode, "How did I put on the high heels with the bobby sock lace things in the 'Hero Takes a Fall' video? What were we doing? We're wearing like a thousand pounds of junk jewelry, but at the time we felt like we had a look." Oh, and each of the girls stars in a little "side bit" where they do something untoward to a mannequin (making this video perhaps my second-favorite '80s video to feature mannequins, after the Alan Parson Project's "Prime Time"). Vicki plays a cowboy, Michael plays a businesswoman, and Debbie plays a socialite, respectively. However, at the 1:04 mark, we are treated to the wonderful sight of Susanna Hoffs dressed in a French maid's outfit. Yowsers! Her sultry power is so intense, it literally makes a mannequin's head fall off. As the YouTube cognoscenti puts it: "Hoffs as a French maid, i need a cold shower!" Or "I think Susanna's kiss would have done the same effect on me :p"


Anonymous said...

You've never listened to "A Different light"?

Little Earl said...

Yeah, yeah, kind of inexcusable, I know. I just have the Greatest Hits, which has five songs from the album, and then one night on a whim I downloaded their cover of "September Gurls" just to hear what it sounded like, so that's half the album right there. I'll probably just get the whole thing when the time comes to write about it.

BUT ... do I need to hear their third album (Everything) to know that it's the Bangles' third best album of the '80s?