Bangles – Sweetheart of the Sun

January 01, 1970

(Model Music Group)


To some, the Bangles were the queens of novelty pop, scoring
hits with a Prince cover, a love song so mushy Hallmark might have rejected it,
and a goofy song about hieroglyphics. To others, they were among the very best
rock & pop bands to come out of the 80s, releasing at least one album
masterpiece, All Over the Place,
which ranks with the best work of any band you’d care to name this side of the
Beatles. So, when the Bangles reformed back in 2003, they were faced with the
difficult prospect of pleasing both camps. Thanks to “Manic Monday,” “Eternal
Flame,” and “Walk Like an Egyptian,” they were guaranteed an audience. But
lucrative as the nostalgia circuit might be, the Bangles still had more great
music in them.


Doll Revolution,
their comeback record at the time, was a mixed bag of new material. There were
definite highlights, most notably “Stealing Rosemary” and “Ride the Ride,”
though the most memorable songs were either written for them by Elvis Costello
(“Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)”) or a remake of Vicki
Peterson’s classic co-write with Susan Cowsill from their days in the
Contintental Drifters (“The Rain Song”). After a while, bassist Michael Steele
left the band. Susanna Hoffs, Vicki and Debbi Peterson carried on with a hired


Now it’s eight years later, and the Bangles have finally
released their second comeback album, only the fifth full-length record of a
career stretching back nearly thirty years. Sweetheart
of the Sun
is exactly what that second group of fans have wanted from this
band for a long, long time. In fact, it sounds remarkably like what we might
have expected a follow-up to All Over the
to be if there hadn’t been attempts to feed the MTV generation’s
desires back in 1985.


Hoffs brought in her erstwhile musical partner Matthew Sweet
to co-produce the record, and it benefits from his matter-of-fact approach to
recording a band that sounds great live. There are overdubbed instruments here
and there, but for the most part, the album serves as a blueprint for playing
these songs in concert. All the trademarks of the band are here, too:  Hoffs’ slashing Rickenbacker, Vicki’s
imaginative riffs and melodically inspired guitar solos, Debbi’s propulsive
drums, those three-part harmonies, the richly intricate song constructions.


It’s the latter strength which truly dominates this time
around. All three Bangles contribute to the writing process, as do a handful of
outside partners (including Go-Go Charlotte Caffey on one number).  Nobody was allowed to get by with sub-par
work, as the ten original songs here are uniformly well crafted. Melodies are
not allowed to coast along waiting for a catchy chorus; instead the hooks
unfold naturally out of the verses, and slide neatly into bridges which match
the rest of the song for unexpected pleasures.


 “I’ll Never Be
Through With You” is a perfect example, opening with a simple Vicki riff,
before Hoffs starts at the bottom of her range with a neatly declarative tune
which opens into a climb up the octave that jumpstarts the melody.  But then comes the chorus, going higher
before naturally falling back down to the verse. The Petersons offer judicious
harmony replies, but Hoffs controls this song, and with a sob on the highest
notes adds a hint of melancholy which makes her statement of love all the more


“Through Your Eyes” is even better, with Hoffs and Vicki
singing an irresistible melody in harmony over a 12-string guitar and mandolin
accompaniment. The hook line “Through your eyes” slays with Debbi joining in
the harmony. The bridge is short and pleasurable, and then that chorus comes
back even bigger before the whole song breaks down only to return with
incredible wordless harmonies to the fade out.


The Bangles have always been known for their cover material,
and this time is no different. An obscure to the point of completely unknown
British girl group called the McKinleys did the original “Sweet and Tender
Romance,” and the Bangles rock the heck out of it here. Clearly the Peterson
sisters were jealous of Hoffs’ Under the
series with Sweet, because the version of Todd Rundgren’s Nazz
classic “Open My Eyes” is spirited and re-creative and just plain fun.


All Bangles work is worth owning, because they are just so
musical that even their weaker songs wear well. But Sweetheart of the Sun is something special, easily the second best
album of their career. (If you count all the solo work of Hoffs and other
projects by individual members, it’s the third best record any of them have
played on, with the Continental Drifters Vermillion album practically tied with All Over the
at the top.) Maybe this record won’t sell to the fans of their youth,
but the Bangles aren’t done yet, and this will please those who expect more out
of this band than just novelties.


Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun),” “Through Your Eyes,” “I’ll Never Be Through With

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