Album of the Week, May 26: All Over the Place by the Bangles

BanglesAllOverWhen guitarist and singer Susanna Hoffs placed an ad for like-minded musicians, she could hardly have guessed what she was setting in motion. Sisters Vicki (guitar, vocals) and Debbi (drums, vocals) Peterson were a perfect fit for her musical sensibilities, especially a fondness for power pop and psychedelic pop.  They formed the Bangs with bassist Annette Zilinskas and began working out their style as a band. After a couple of singles and a promising EP — plus a name change due to a conflict with a New York band called the Bangs — they landed a deal with Columbia and lost Zilinskas. Former Runaway Michael Steele signed on, and the quartet began work on their debut LP. The result was a stunning album that showcased four great talents whose collaboration was truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Title All Over the Place
Act The Bangles
Label Columbia Release Date May 1984
Producer David Kahne
U.S. Chart  80 U.K. Chart  86
Tracks
  1. Hero Takes A Fall
  2. Live
  3. James
  4. All About You
  5. Dover Beach
  6. Tell Me
  7. Restless
  8. Going Down to Liverpool
  9. He’s Got A Secret
  10. Silent Treatment
  11. More Than Meets the Eye

Featuring songs mostly written by Hoffs and Vicki Peterson, All Over the Place is a fine post-punk, jangle-pop album. All four singers work well solo and together, creating stellar harmonies and strong solos. The result is exactly what should happen when garage rock gets a chance at full-fledged production.

Things kick off in high style with Hero Takes A Fall. An amazing kiss-off song, it makes the most of all four band members’ talents. It feels like a song Elvis Costello wrote for Dusty Springfield, performed by the Mamas and the Papas (well, the Mamas, anyway) — and that’s a great thing. After wearing their musical influences on their sleeves — and making them their own — the Bangles present an obscure cover. Live was written by Emmit Rhodes and recorded by his band the Merry-Go-Round. It’s a wonderful anthem about celebrating life and the Bangles’ jubilant delivery is spot on.

Things get darker with James, another relationship-gone-wrong song. It’s delightfully personal, and the line “letting me down again, James” is sung with such resignation that you can feel it through the speakers. All About You is also frustrated, as the singer learns just who her lover truly is. Despite the similar themes, the two songs are very distinct in tone and delivery, a testament to the band’s talent.

Dover Beach is a complex masterpiece. It shows off the band’s education as it borrows from a number of early 20th Century poems and weaves them together with Hoffs’ and Peterson’s own lines. The result is a wonderful testament to the strength of a relationship and the ways that reality can get in the way of truly celebrating each other. The music is perfectly constructed and performed to support the lyrics. This is the Bangles at their finest.

Tell Me moves back into “get lost” territory as the band tell off an unfaithful lover who wants to start over. It’s a compact pop package that makes its point and shows off the band’s 80’s approach to 60’s pop nicely. Restless continues in the same vein, refusing to be pinned down while a partner plays the field. As with other song pairs on the disc, it’s a nice similar-but-different combination that makes the most of the quartet’s skills.

Going Down to Liverpool is the other cover, and it’s an amazing choice. Written by Katrina and the Waves guitarist Kimberley Rew and recorded for that band’s first album, it’s a potent tale of desperation. The original (owing a strong musical debt to Rew’s time in the Soft Boys) was a remarkable, stark argument against Thatcher’s Britain. Somehow the Bangles make it their own and create a cover that manages to edge out its very fine original.

The final three tracks return to wonderfully crafted relationship songs. He’s Got A Secret is a delightful infidelity song narrated by the other woman. The musical smirk of satisfaction is perfectly crafted. Silent Treatment captures the uncomfortable moment in a relationship when both parties should practice discretion despite emotional pressure. It’s another compact gem that shows off how well the band could construct a tight song. The wrap-up is the creepy More Than Meets the Eye, a dark and quiet song about voyeurism that uses the quartet’s harmonies to great effect. It caps off the disc in great fashion.

FURTHER LISTENING: All Over the Place should have been a smash hit. Sadly, it predated the 80s boom in college rock by a bit, selling reasonably well but not providing the platform the band needed to keep doing what they did so well. Their next album, A Different Light, couldn’t have been more aptly named. While there were flashes of musical brilliance (and the harmless fun of monster #1 Walk Like An Egyptian) it was dragged down by glossy late-80s production. After a third, dismal album the Bangles dissolved, with the four women going on to other projects. Fans of the band’s hits should pursue the 1990 Greatest Hits, which also includes their amazing cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter.  A side project of interest to fans of power pop are the two Under the Covers albums recorded by Hoffs with musically sympathetic Matthew Sweet as Sid & Susie.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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