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Old 10-19-2022, 09:47 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Maidens of Music: Sisters of the Song, Ladies of the Lyric

These day, pop music in particular is all but dominated by female acts, and that's pretty much the way it has been since the days of the likes of Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Debbie Harry and Madonna, but rock has traditionally been a harder arena for women not only to break into, but to gain the respect they are very much due. To an extent, this is changing, but rock is still, to use the words of the old song, a man's world.

The women in these reviews are doing their best to change that. Of course, it would be wrong to say that every woman who goes into rock or forms a band or strikes out on her own - no matter the genre - does so in a conscious attempt to take on the male establishment or make a statement for her sisters; some - many, probably, maybe even most - don't care, and only want to play or sing music. Of course they do, and so they should. There doesn't have to be any great battle of the sexes going on. But even if it's not their intention to do so, the women who make it in rock and all forms of music show, by their example, that it's not just a closed shop and that your gender does not and should not hold you back from following your dreams. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that, in my book.

Different Light - The Bangles - 1986 (Columbia)


Back before “girl bands” like the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud were hip, the Bangles were sisters doin' it for themselves. A girl band in the true sense of the word, the Bangles all played an instrument, and they also wrote their own material. Their second album, Different Light, broke them wide open commercially, spawning no less than four hit singles - one of which hit the number one spot - and quite possibly influencing the “girl power” movement before it had even been thought of. In a world where there were not that many female performers, and less bands made up of women, the Bangles were a breath of fresh air, and in many ways a risky proposition for a label to back, but helped by the writing talent of Prince, who penned their number two hit, “Manic Monday”, it was a gamble Columbia must have been glad they took.

I was more than a little surprised to find that it's a really good album. When I bought it, I of course knew the singles (who, at that time, had not heard of “Manic Monday”, “Walk like an Egyptian” or indeed “If she knew what she wants”?), but I had no idea how good the rest of it was. There is, literally, no filler material, and just about any of the other eight tracks could have been released as singles.

It starts off with the instantly recognisable “Manic Monday”, penned by Prince under the pseudonym of “Christopher”, but everyone knew it was him. It's not that surprising: if you listen to the verses you can sing those of Prince's “1999” to them. But it was a huge hit and sent the Bangles on their way to pop stardom and repeated chart success. It's a good song, if a little simplistic, but very catchy, and more to the point, it's something we can all relate to, that feeling ”Wish it was Sunday.../ Don't have to run day” The title track is a rockier affair, strictly speaking it's called “In a different light”, and sounds to me like Simon and Garfunkel's “Hazy shade of winter”, which they ended up covering later. Great guitar work from Vicki Peterson, and of course Susannah Hoff's honey-sweet voice which would become one of the hallmarks of the late eighties.

This is certainly a guitar-oriented album. In addition to those played by Hoffs and Peterson, bassist Micheal Steele also plays guitar, and there are “additional guitars” credited on the album to Rusty Anderson and Barbara Chapman. That's a LOT of guitars! The poppy sound continues on “Walking down your street”, a happy, breezy tune which was also released as a single, with some nice keyboard touches courtesy of Mitchell Froom and David Kahne. Then we're into their biggest hit, the number one smash “Walk like an Egyptian”. Personally, although this was their most successful single, it's not one of my favourites, but it's good fun.

The songs on this album are predictably all short. There's only one over four minutes, and many under three, or just over. No epic compositions then. But that's not what the Bangles are about. It's short, snappy, singable tunes they're into, songs you remember and recognise, and that appeal to everyone; songs that play well on the radio. It's perhaps telling that of the four tracks that became hits, only one of those is even co-written by any of the Bangles. This is rather a pity, as they write some pretty good stuff, much of which got ignored on this album. “Standing in the hallway” is a keyboard-led toe-tapper that I felt for sure would have been released as a single, but never was. The keys on this give it, to me, quite a sixties feel, and following track “Return post”, the longest on the album at just under four and a half minutes, is a great little blues/boogie tune with some nice bass lines and some great vocal harmonies.

But no, it's another non-Bangles-penned effort, up next, which gets released as a single, and to be fair, “If she knew what she wants” is a great little track, and a good choice for a single, but there are others which could have done as well, but as might be expected the rockier tracks on the album were overlooked in favour of the more commercial, accessibly pop ones. Nevertheless, I see no real reason why “Let it go” was not considered, with its close vocal harmonies and steady beat, nice piano and guitar that rocks but is still within the sphere of acceptable pop. “Angels don't fall in love” rocks out nicely, while “Following”, the slowest track on the album, is almost a spoken vocal, with guitar accompaniment only to open, then synth backing, but a very stripped-down, acoustic song, and certainly the only dark song on the album, where the Bangles show they can be more than just happy popsters. A great little track, very effective, written by bassist Michael Steele, and unless I'm very wrong, sung by her too.

As I say, no filler at all, with each track on the album capable of standing on its own merits, and more than a few unreleased ones which could have been singles. It's not a guitar solo-fest, it's not brimming with keyboard arpeggios or deep, meaningful lyrics, but it's more than just a pop record. Like I said at the beginning, bands like the Bangles set the bar for the plethora of girl bands who came after, so if nothing else the likes of Destiny's Child, Girls Aloud and Atomic Kitten owe these five “gurls” a debt of thanks. Like most things though, the Bangles had their day, and after the initial euphoria of this album wore off, people lost interest and though the Bangles continued recording up to their breakup in 1988, and reformed ten years later, with their last new album released over ten years ago, 1986 was the year of their breakthrough, and also the apex of their career.

Like many bands classed as “one-hit wonders”, or indeed “one-album-wonders”, the Bangles are still recording today, but sadly these days it seems trends have moved on, and few, if any, care. For their time the Bangles were a spirit of the age, something new and exciting, but since the oversaturation of boy and girl bands that hit the world since the late 1990s, and with shows like the X-Factor and American Idol bringing more and more often dubious talent to the fore, it would seem that the heady days of success for these girls is over.

TRACK LISTING

1. Manic Monday
2. In a Different Light
3. Walking Down Your Street
4. Walk Like an Egyptian
5. Standing in the Hallway
6. Return Post
7. If She Knew What She Wants
8. Let it Go
9. September Gurls
10. Angels Don't Fall in Love
11. Following
12. Not Like You


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JucLHCZHOxM
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Old 10-26-2022, 08:43 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I Stand Alone - Agnetha Faltskog - 1987 (WEA)


Agnetha who? Ok then, what if I said “that blonde one from ABBA”? Yeah, that's her: one half of the female pair in the Swedish supergroup. This was her third solo album, and it's not half bad. Produced by Peter Cetera of Chicago, who also duets with her on one track, it's got a nice crisp clean sound about it, without being clinically pristine and devoid of emotion.

It starts off well, with a mid-paced ballad, “The Last Time”, replete with digital piano and churning guitar. Perhaps strange to begin an album with a track so titled, but it sets the tone of the album, which seems to be more or less centred on the idea of breakups and betrayals, and is, I guess, in that way quite a dark album. No vacuous pop record then, but that's hardly what you'd expect anyway from someone who has spent the better part of her life making music that's cherished by millions the world over. “The Last Time” is really more a rock song than a ballad, quite gutsy and heavy, and Agnetha's soulful voice soars over the arrangement like an avenging angel.

Much more commercial, and less impressive, is the Gloria Estefanesque “Little White Secrets”, which more or less comes and goes without leaving too much of a mark, and leads into the third single from the album, the aforementioned duet with Cetera. “I Wasn't the One Who Said Goodbye” has all the hallmarks of a Chicago song - the only thing missing is production by David Foster! It's pretty much Agnetha Faltskog sings with Peter Cetera, rather than the other way round. Don't get me wrong: it's great to hear the man's voice on record again, but he does sort of take over the song. At least it's heavier and rockier than the previous track, though that's not hard.

Then we have a Bucks Fizz cover! Yes, you read that correctly. “Love in a World Gone Mad” was originally on an album by the blonde Eurovision winners who brought us such anthems as “Making Your Mind Up” and “The Land of Make-believe”. Give me a break! This thing is so sugary I'm glad I'm not a diabetic! Pass!

And there we have the essential dichotomy of this album. Some tracks are good rockers or rock ballads, some are pop songs and some are just over-produced nonsense, so that it's hard to take it seriously as a whole. As if to underline the point, the next song, “Maybe it Was Magic”, is a fantastic, powerful ballad sung with power and passion by Agnetha, and if more of the songs were like this then this would be a knockout album. As it is, for every “Maybe it Was Magic” there's a “Little White Secrets” - you're just starting to enjoy it when something slaps you upside the head and changes your thinking, so that it's hard to form a cohesive opinion of the overall product.

It's also telling that Ms. Faltskog doesn't write, or even have a hand in writing, any of the songs on this album. You would think that a talented songwriter like her would have wanted to be involved in the creative process, but no, every song is written for her. Personally I wonder if this is why the album falls down on so many fronts: some of the songs are good, a few great, but there are some very bad ones, and I wonder had she stretched her wings a bit and engaged in some songwriting, would we have had a better album?

For all that, the second side of the album is considerably better than the first. Kicking off with a nice little pop/rock tune, which was released as a single from the album, “Let it Shine” is not half bad at all. “We Got a Way” is pure ABBA, circa the Voulez Vous period. Rocks out nicely, keeps the tempo up, nice keyboard solo. At this point, you begin to let your breath out, daring to think that maybe the album is beginning to come together, and you'd not be wrong. The title track is I guess what you might call a dark ballad, although the rhythm betrays it as more a pop song, and the horns give it a very Latin feel. It's written for her by (you would have to say) co-star Cetera and his ex-Chicago compatriot Bruce Gaitsch, who apparently also co-wrote Madonna's hit “La Isla Bonita”. So he knows a bit about songwriting, then. You can also hear a little of that song in the beat and melody of this one.

The album closes on two songs penned by two true adepts of the art, Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, and of these two it's the final track, “If You Need Somebody Tonight”, that stands out and is a fitting closer. A gorgeous little piano-driven ballad, with yearning and a hint of desperation, a sort of much slower and restrained “Take a Chance On Me”.

All in all, this is no classic album, but there are certainly tracks there which make it a very good one. My advice would be, listen to the opener, skip to “Maybe it Was Magic” and let it go from there. Mind you, she couldn't put a foot wrong in her native Sweden, where the album went to number one! Ah, those crazy Swedes!

TRACK LISTING

1. The Last Time
2. Little White Secrets
3. I Wasn't the One Who Said Goodbye
4. Love in a World Gone Mad
5. Maybe it Was Magic
6. Let it Shine
7. We Got a Way
8. I Stand Alone
9. Are You Gonna Throw it All Away?
10. If You Need Somebody Tonight
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