The

Mick

Sinclair

Archive

The Bangles

March

1986

NME

album review

 
 
A DIFFERENT LIGHT

The Bangles

IT'S SAID that through concentrated effort of mind a person can alter their pulse and body temperature. Listening track by track to the second Bangles LP I wondered if a similar thing applied to records. I found myself positively willing them to discover and harness the pleasurable energies which they regularly hint at but all too frequently leave buried amid the general Bangles and mash.

The Bangles promise so much. Not only do they have obvious links through gender and location (all girl/American west coast) to the craze and sweet hysteria of mid-'60s girl groups who etched their emotional conflicts onto nailbiting tunes and got the production sound of a 100-piece orchestra playing in a tin bucket, but they have a comparable magic within which could spirit them into being the perfect contemporary manifestation of all that. A throwforward rather than a throwback.

The Bangles are undoubtedly at their most potent using other people's songs. And it's on the two most curious selections where they shine brightest. Strange moments like Liam Stemberg's Walking Like An Egyptian', a sort of tacky but likeable composition, and Alex Chilton's delightfully simple 'September Gurls' which gets rewarded with a sympathetically low-key treatment.

In contrast, their own songs (seven out of 12) need something more resolutely high-key to make the listener sit up and listen. It's as if they write songs on the simple criteria of what sounds applicable to The Bangles rather than striving to create material which is good per se. This serves to reduce the options rather than widen them, as the group function best tackling things not made to measure.

As a result you begin to wonder if they're thinking, be it consciously or otherwise, about their target audience while being apparently content to make structures of pure corn - layers of vocal and uniform 4/4 thwack with a little moderately assertive guitar break - that's all too effortlessly in one ear and out the other.

Finally one is left mindful of the failings instead of the successes. The Bangles carry off a cultured switch and twist of vocal here, a twinkle of guitar there, periodically inspired combing of publishers' catalogues and occasionally conceive lyrics which don't rely on the symbolic resonance of "ooh ". But with 'Different Light' they ride on the back of a big wave that's always about to break but somehow never quite does.

Mind you, if it did I'd probably be dead from ecstasy.

 

mick sinclair

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