Copyright ©2003 PopEntertainment.com. All rights
November 1, 2003.
funny how things change in the
world. For example, the last time the Bangles released a
new album, George Bush was in the White
House, we had a bad economy and there were troops in Iraq trying to get to
wait a second
Well, everything old is
new again. Now, its time for the Bangles to return to the record stores, with
their first new disk of terrific pop rock in about fourteen years.
the immortal words of LL Cool J, Dont call it a comeback! The new album
Doll Revolution isnt just the sad attempt of an aging band trying
to stay relevant. Instead, its a sublime mix of girl group harmonies and
pop-punk sensibilities. The band has kept an eye on the musical changes of
the last decade, but they dont try to reinvent the wheel. The sound is
classic Bangles and yet totally applicable
to todays alt-rock scene.
The Bangles trump
card, having four diverse singer/songwriters with their own styles and
talents, continues unchecked. The latest platter is every bit as good as
their four releases in the 80s, which were
all critically and
popularly received themselves.
So how did we get here,
anyway? Lets rewind a little.
Our story starts in the
California sun of the late seventies. A couple of teenaged sisters, Vicki
Peterson (guitars) and Debbi Peterson (drums) had started a band called the
Bangs with Vickis best friend Annette Zilinskas. The group also featured a
lead guitarist who just wasnt working out, so they placed an ad for a new
one. Through a convoluted
chain of circumstances, the ad brought in
singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs. The group released a well-received single
called Getting Out of Hand in 1981 on their own Down Kiddie!
When they found out
about another band also calling itself the Bangs, they decided to rechristen the
group the Bangles. By 1982, the group had released their first self-titled
EP on the tiny Fawlty Records label. It picked up even more of a buzz,
and was re-released by the then-smoking-hot indie label IRS Records (The Go-Gos,
R.E.M.). Soon the band was hooked up with Columbia Records. Zilinskas decided
to leave the band, and they signed up the final
link, bassist Michael Micki Steele, formerly of Joan Jetts proto-punk
girl group the Runaways.
Their first Columbia
album, All Over the Place, was a critical favorite and had a couple of
minor hits with Hero Takes a Fall and Going Down To Liverpool. They
made even more news when Prince took notice of the band and wrote a song for
them (under the pseudonym Christopher). Manic Monday was released in 1986
and became a huge hit single previewing their
Different Light. It was followed up by hit versions of Jules Shears
If She Knew What She Wants and then the bands first number one hit, Liam
Sternbergs Walk Like An Egyptian.
Even though the band was thrilled that they
had broken from the pack, it had the feel of a double-edged sword.
had four songwriters and yet they were becoming
well known for songs which were
not their own.
I was coming
from the point of view of a songwriter, admits singer/guitarist Vicki
Peterson. I wanted to be given respect and recognition as
[one]. I thought
the band itself had a point of view and a voice and something to say that
was being underestimated by our label. I kept looking to bands like R.E.M.,
who never went outside the band, really, to write. Ive since learned maybe that wasnt actually true. But, the perception was, it
was the bands voice. I wanted that for the Bangles.
Particularly weird was
the number one smash Walk Like An Egyptian. The band had heard the demo
sung by singer Marti Jones and thought it would be fun to record. But,
suddenly, they were best
known for a song that was a bit of a novelty. Their fourth single, Walking Down Your Street was a Hoffs
composition and became a minor success. Then as a soundtrack single for the
movie Less Than Zero, the group recorded Simon & Garfunkels Hazy
Shade of Winter, which just missed hitting the top spot.
The group holed up and
started working on their next album Everything and decided to take
things into their own hands. No more covers.
The band would write or co-write
the whole disk. The self confidence paid off, as Hoffs co-wrote the big hit
In Your Room and the standard Eternal Flame. Finally, people were
acknowledging that the group wasnt made up of just
guitars-for-hire; they could do more than
It helped a lot for me, even though I wasnt
the writer on any of those songs, Peterson says. With Eternal Flame,
for instance, Susanna was able to work with writers that shes comfortable
with, but was able to come up with a song, which became such a classic. I
remember when they first wrote it, I was talking to [co-writer] Billy
Steinberg, and he was saying, I think we wrote a classic. He just had
that sense from the beginning. Thats an amazing thing. I wish I could say
I was part of it, but I wasnt.
in the band were
growing. Hoffs was getting singled out as the leader of the
group. Perhaps, it was because her songs were mostly the ones that were
becoming hit singles. Maybe
since she was short and was always placed
front and center in band shots. When Debbi Peterson insisted that her song
Be With You be released as the third single from Everything and it
didnt exactly take off, the band imploded.
It was sort of a slow
process, Peterson recalls. Actually, the entire thing was a slow arc.
From my point of view, part of that came from those little hits on my
confidence to really take control and be in control of where we
were going. That happened when the singles were repeatedly and
pointedly being chosen as songs that were written by outside writers, [or]
songs that were only Susanna vocals. Which wasnt always true. Obviously,
Walk Like An Egyptian, our biggest hit, was a shared vocal. Hazy Shade
of Winter was a shared vocal. But, the perception was such that there was
no hit potential unless it was a Sue vocal or if it
was written by somebody
other than a band member. That became very irritating, because it wasnt a
true reflection of what we really were. That was something that was in the
mix for years, so when things actually did fall apart, it was absolutely
because they had to. There was just no other way to go.
So they all went their
own ways. Susanna Hoffs released a couple of solo albums and even had a
few minor hit singles, but
nothing compared to her
band work. Vicki
Peterson worked with a few groups, finally settling into the Continental
Drifters, an alt-rock all-star band she
fronted with Susan Cowsill, the youngest member of
sixties family group the Cowsills. Debbi Peterson formed her own band and
also worked with former Go-Go drummer Gina Schock.
Micki Steele played some studio gigs.
They all stayed in
touch though, and nearly a decade after the band split up, Susanna Hoffs and Debbi Peterson started talking about doing some band work again.
The perfect opportunity occurred when they decided to record the song Get
the Girl for the soundtrack to the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who
Shagged Me, which was directed by Hoffs husband, Jay Roach.
Get the Girl was just the first time we
were actually in a studio together for something like ten years, Peterson
says. But, before that, we had already started writing songs together. We
had talked extensively about how we would do a reuniting of the forces. If
we would do it
Should we do it? Is there a reason to do it? Do we have
something to say? It wasnt just a matter of yeah, lets jump on the
nostalgia circuit, which is definitely out there and had been calling for
years. Wed been getting offers since probably the mid-90s, about different
opportunities to tour with bands that were popular at the same time that we
were, but that we felt we had absolutely no connection with, musically.
sessions worked out even
better than they expected. The next thing they discussed was maybe doing some
live gigs. They tested the waters with small shows in venues like LAs
House of Blues. Suddenly, it seemed natural, like no time had gone by. Even more, it
was kind of a rebirth for the band.
It was weird. It was very odd for me, because
I was one of the holdouts. Michael and I were the last ones to sign on. I
said, yeah, this is something I want and I need in my life right now.
Peterson laughs. I was very happy making music with the Continental
Drifters and living in New Orleans. I started commuting back to LA to write
songs and to do these shows, and I was still being an active member of the
Drifters. So, it was a very strange double life I was leading at that time.
Actually getting together and functioning as a band was easier than it ever
had been. We were real clear about what we were trying to do, and real
clear about respecting the boundaries that wed set.
The band soon had
enough songs for an album. They recorded Doll Revolution with their
own money from touring. They only started looking for a label after the
album was complete. That gave them the freedom to experiment more and just
have more of the bands stamp on the album. If they were going to do this,
they were going to do it their way. No label interference.
Which is exactly why we did it that way, Peterson says. We raised the
funds ourselves. We orchestrated the entire recording and how we were going
to do it. We auditioned co-producers. We fell in love with Brad Wood
immediately. He was just the easiest collaborator. He was smart, he is an
incredible musician, and that was the easiest choice. We pulled that
together and we kept reminding ourselves, this is easy guys.
Micki often reminds us that we would look at each other and go, but, were
not suffering. This cant be good. Peterson laughs. Is it art? Nobodys
suffering. Were all laughing and having dinner. Whats wrong? It was kind
of funny that way. For instance, when we got to the point of the process
where we needed to pare down the many songs we had tracked, and we had
originally come up with over thirty songs, that wed written and that we
were presenting to each other as potential songs to track. We decided, okay,
look, well track fifteen, and well probably use thirteen. So we did that,
and when it came to that fateful day, we couldnt let go of two of those
songs. We just couldnt find it in our hearts. And then we realized, hey,
guys, you know what? We dont have to. Its our record. Nobodys telling us
anything. That was such a liberating feeling.
Those fifteen songs
show many different sides and shapes of the band. The first single is a
delightful mid-tempo love ode called Something That You Said. Ask Me No
Questions is a lovely piece of jangly balladry with a wonderful sixties
vibe. Nickel Romeo has a feels like something a forgotten sixties group
like the Neon Philharmonic or Yellow Balloon would have recorded, complete
with orchestral interlude. Ride the Ride is an exuberant punk-pop nugget
that would have felt at home on All Over the Place. I Will Take
Care Of You is a sweet ballad in the vein of Eternal Flame.
Peterson put her best
foot forward, contributing songs like the propulsive Here Right Now and
the defiant Single By Choice. The group also recorded the swinging The
Rain Song and Mixed Messages from Petersons other group the Continental
The singing on the
album is stellar, with each distinct vocal style melding into a passionate
whole. Instrumentally, the band is tight, with each member in complete
charge of their licks and some tasty guest appearances by the likes of Dave
Grohl (Nirvana, The Foo Fighters) and Peter Holsapple
Any one of these songs
deserve to be smash hit singles, though Peterson says they really werent
fooling themselves into thinking that they would be huge radio hits.
But, for a change, Peterson
realizes, there are alternative ways of getting the music out to the people,
with the internet and satellite radio revolutionizing the ways that bands can reach
It would be a great
bonus [to have a hit], but it was not why we got
into the studio, she says. It was not in our heads when we were writing
in the studio. Occasionally, we would think, hey this one is kind of
shaping up, and I could hear this on radio. Something That You Said was
one of those songs from early on. When I first heard it, it was in its
embryonic stage. Susanna and Charlotte Caffey [former guitarist and
keyboardist for the Go-Gos] had started the song that I thought had a
really strong chorus, but desperately needed to have its lyrics rewritten
and needed a bridge. So, I went back to them and said, would you mind if I
worked on this for a bit? They were completely into that concept and
Susanna and I kind of reshaped the song. I always could hear that song as a
Other than that, Im
still the naïve person who believes almost anything could be a single if
its just marketed properly, hits at the right time, and gets a shot. Yeah,
Id love to hear Here Right Now [on the radio].
I think thats one of the most infectious songs on the record. Its not a
classic contemporary right-now pop single
its a little offbeat. It may
not ever get a shot at radio. If it did, it might resonate, you know? But,
thats not where our heads were at when we were recording.
There is only one song
not written by a member of the group, the (sort of) title track Tear Off
Your Own Head [its a doll revolution
was a song written by Elvis Costello for a TV series he was trying to sell.
It was about an all-girl rock group that also worked as private eyes or
but it never got picked up. But
Costello had written the song as the theme for the show. Since Elvis
vocals didnt show the girl-group vibe he was trying to get over, he called
Hoffs and asked if shed do the demo for him. She brought Steele along to
record it. Later, when the Bangles were recording the album, Micki kept
suggesting they do the Elvis song. Finally they gave it a shot. They
decided it was not just a cool song, but it really captured the spirit of
The group plans on
touring to promote the album, but their concerns have shifted a bit.
Three of the band members are married (Peterson recently married longtime friend John Cowsill, drummer of the pop group the Cowsills and brother of Vickis
Continental Drifters bandmate Susan). We will
[play live shows], probably sporadically until summertime, because its all
about the kids and school schedules, she laughs. Thats how our lives are
now. The kids are the priority.
In the meantime,
Peterson is just glad to have Doll Revolution out
there to do the talking for them. She hopes that it gets to the fans
so that they can appreciate the album as a whole, not just one or two hit
That was probably one
of the frustrating things about the post-Bangle
years, she says.
That our legacy
which is a huge word to use, but there was sort of
an afterglow, as it were, of Bangle-dom. It all kind of filtered down to
the hit singles. People would just remember Walk Like An Egyptian and
Eternal Flame and then wed run into people whod actually listen to the
albums, and listen to the CDs, and listen to the full collections. That was
very gratifying to find people who would listen to the entire musical
spectrum that was the Bangles.
person who appreciated the whole spectrum that was the Bangles was a guy
named Sir Paul McCartney (who was in a couple of pretty good bands himself).
He was so impressed by their music that he asked the group to conduct a
workshop class at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Then, in
July 2004, he awarded the Bangles with the honorary degree of being "LIPA
Companions," to celebrate the band's excellence in performing arts and the
priceless guidance that was offered to the students. The Bangles were
the first group to receive this honor.
But the Bangles' legacy, if we may use such a
hallowed term, would be simple for Peterson. I would hope that people see
the Bangles as a band that fearlessly fought all of the stereotypes that
surrounded women in music, in quotations. A
band inspired by both men and female musicians. And a kick ass live band.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT
DEBBI PETERSON OF THE BANGLES HAD TO SAY TO US IN
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT SUSANNA HOFFS OF THE
BANGLES HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2012!
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