The Bangles – Everything

the_bangles-everything-frontal

Part I: The Background

Released in 1988, “Everything” is the third album by all-girl rock group The Bangles. Released as a follow up to their extremely successful “Different Light” album, this release saw the group at the height of their popularity. As such, tensions within the group were strong, and the group would disband following the release of this album. I’m not aware of any interesting anecdotes surrounding this one aside from that Susanna Hoffs apparently recorded her vocals for “Eternal Flame” while naked, due to the producer having tricked her into thinking this would benefit her performance. Well, it worked…

Part II: The Music

In Your Room: The album kicks off with the rocking lead single. When Brian Wilson sang about his room, it was a place of solitude; a place he would go to lock himself away from all of the troubles of the world, to be alone, and to contemplate his worries and his fears. In contrast, the room Hoffs is singing about here is a place of rampant and vibrant sexuality. The 80s production on this track is nice and understated; it supports the track rather than drags it down. And the sweeping, Eastern-sounding strings evoke that mid-sixties psychedelic sound. That’s what I love about The Bangles–everything is subtle. Whatever elements they add to a track blend in with it perfectly rather than calling attention to themselves. Okay, maybe not the lyrics, but Hoffs wrote this one. What did you expect? RATING: 7.5/10

Complicated Girl: Michael Steele’s first offering on the album. As is typical of her style of songwriting, it suddenly sounds like we’re listening to a completely different band. While the other Bangles thrive in that trademark 80s sound, Steele’s music tends to look forward to the sound of the 90s. The descending guitar riff during the chorus here is catchy and extremely pleasant. And of course, Steele has an incredible sense of melody. Bonus points for the baroque pop influences during the middle eight.  RATING: 8/10

Bell Jar: I didn’t like this one at first. It’s slow and plodding. The melody is understated. The song is presumably named after the story of the same name by Sylvia Plath. But this is a Peterson sisters track, so of course it leans towards the art rock side of things. While it may not stand out at first, repeat listens reveal the intricacies of this track–the rigid drum beat and the minimal instrumentation underscore the isolation and frustration that permeate the lyrics. RATING: 7/10

Something To Believe In: Another Steele track. She’s really got an MOR sound on this album, hasn’t she? I’m not too crazy about this one as a whole. It’s a rather harmless track that never really goes anywhere… until you get to the instrumental break. The reverberating plucked acoustic notes elicit a peaceful, weightless, soaring sensation. Like little drops of water falling into a still pond. Absolutely beautiful. RATING: 7/10

Eternal Flame: The big one. Some might say this ballad is the epitome of cheese. But for me, this is The Bangles at their finest. The song is BOTH an 80s classic and a flawless callback to the sounds of the 60s. Hoffs’ vocal performance is absolutely stunning. The vibrant string arrangement during the chorus creates a dynamic contrast to the music-box-esque verses. Yeah, I don’t care what anyone says. This track is perfection. RATING: 10/10

Be With You: Another one of my personal favourites. Be With You is a rarity in The Bangles catalogue: it’s penned by Debbi without the help of her sister or Hoffs. And it’s one of the most melodically-pleasing, most catchy, and most tightly-produced tracks in their entire discography. The bells evoke that shimmering, nighttime aesthetic that I’m so fond of. The song is upbeat with the melody of a downbeat song, if that makes sense–slow it down and you have something really beautiful and touching. Oh, and the song starts with an orchestra warming up, a la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Enough said. RATING: 10/10

Glitter Years: The best of Steele’s tracks on this album. Glitter Years–a song about the glam rock years of the early seventies–is one of Steele’s most polished compositions. I was actually a little confused about the seventies style guitar riff that opens the song, but now that I think about it in that light, it makes perfect sense. The song also contains an interpolation of Bowie’s “You Better Hang On To Yourself.” RATING: 9.5/10

I’ll Set You Free: I couldn’t actually remember what this song sounded like off the top of my head–not a good sign. Oh right, this one. Mediocre Hoffs track. Nothing more, nothing less. Except it was a single, so I guess I should say a bit more about it. But it’s really nothing special. It leans slightly on the melancholic side of things, but Hoffs’ vocals aren’t all that convincing on this track. Sounds very phoned-in. But it’s not bad; melody-wise it is single material, I suppose. RATING:6/10

Watching The Sky: This may be the heaviest song The Bangles ever recorded. It kicks off with a booming drum beat. A fierce, fiery guitar riff is then layered on top of that along with a growling bass. And Vicki, being the genius that she is, is still able to take this and throw a melodically-pleasing, pseudo-psychedelic vocal melody on top of it. The song almost gets progressive at times, especially during the synth solo. RATING: 9/10

Some Dreams Come True: I guess Debbi put everything she had into “Be With You”, because this one’s nowhere near as good. At best, it’s a slightly above-par 80s-sounding album cut. The chorus is kind of weak and even comes across as rushed. But hey, like everything else on this album (can you tell I’m a fan yet?), the song is perfectly listenable. RATING: 6.5/10

Make A Play For Her Now: Vicki always has the best songs. This dark, moody piece provides the exact sort of atmosphere you need during the latter half of an album. Definitely one of the more ethereal moments on the album. RATING: 7.5/10

Waiting For You: This is going to be completely unfair, because objectively the track is pretty straightforward, but it happens to be my favourite Bangles song. The melody that kicks in at the ends of the verses over the descending bass note riff is one hell of a hook. But what lifts this track to perfection is the fact that the chorus presents an equally appealing melodic hook. I actually like the lyrics on this one too, which is not something I’ll usually say about a Hoffs song. I mean, they’re not great or anything, but there’s something hypnotizing about the line “Stars and the moon wait for you in my lonely room.” I also really dig the unique structure of this song; the chorus only repeats a single time, after an instrumental break, before returning to the verse (I think this would be AABBA structure, but don’t quote me on that because I’m no expert on these sorts of things). Another great song that uses this structure is Graham Nash’s “Hey You (Looking At The Moon)”. RATING: 10/10

Crash And Burn: And it all ends with a rocker–but in typical Bangles style, it’s a pop rocker with one hell of a catchy melody. I can totally picture myself “winding through the hot night without my headlights” when I hear this song. It’s a cruising the highway song, is what it is. It didn’t wind up being the swan song for the group–still to come was the single “Everything I Wanted” from the Greatest Hits album and of course the (as of 2016) two reunion albums. But it wasn’t really meant to be one either. It’s just another great album closer that breaks from the songs that come before it to highlight the group’s influences. No really, think about it. All Over The Place ends with the psychedelic/baroque pop piece “More Than Meets The Eye”. Different Light ends with the McCartney-esque–or rather, knowing what we know about the group, the Emitt Rhodes-esque–“Not Like You”. This one ends with a upbeat rocker. A fitting end to a great album and to the classic era of one of the greatest all-female rock groups of all time. RATING: 8/10

PART III: The Album

Aesthetic: As I said earlier, The Bangles were masters at taking 80s production styles and blending them seamlessly with sounds from previous decades. The production never calls attention to itself. But the album cover is kind of not that great. The Bangles have this weird thing going on where every album cover–for the pre-reunion albums at least–looks like the cover of a greatest hits record. You know, the name should also play into aesthetic, shouldn’t it? I’m not convinced that “Everything” is an appropriate title for this album. Sorry. SCORE: 2/5

Artistic Merit: Some. More so on Michael and Vicki’s tracks. They’re not exactly pushing boundaries here, but you can have a great album that takes the best of previously established styles and sprinkles some top-notch songwriting on top to make a hell of an album. But uh… Different Light does all of those things and better. SCORE: 2.5/5

Flow: The Michael Steele songs, as I said, don’t really fit in with the rest of the album. They don’t even fit in with the rest of the band’s output from that decade. The songs do at least all sound like they originate from the same era of the band–the post-peak but still artistically viable period. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: Overall, “Everything” is not quite as strong as their previous effort, “Different Light”, but it does succeed in reaching the same peaks. You can kind of hear the members beginning to go their own separate ways, but it’s not completely disorienting either. I am quite fond of this one, yeah.

FINAL SCORE: 76/100

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