As good as the Go-Go's were, they are not the best all-female rock band to come out of Los Angeles in the '80s. The Bangles are poised to eclipse their predecessors with a female update of the Beatles' sound, "Different Light" (Columbia, BFC 40039).
The Go-Go's, whose debut album went platinum in 1982, have broken up and scattered in several directions, but their ghost haunts the Bangles. Even though the Bangles were playing together before the Go-Go's made their first record, many casual observers regard the Bangles as imitators of the Go-Go's.
The difference between the two bands should be obvious. The Go-Go's leaned more toward big-beat dance party music, while the Bangles emphasize more of a jangly guitar sound. More tellingly, the Go-Go's focused on one lead singer, while all four of the Bangles are lead singers, and thus they boast more of a group vocal sound.
A sense of regret and dissatisfaction creeps into the Bangles' music and gives it a depth that the happy-go-lucky Go-Go's never quite achieved. This strain of sadness is effectively counterbalanced by the Bangles' contagious sense of camaraderie. Every song is wrapped in carefully worked out guitar and vocal harmonies. These harmonies seem to imply that the lead singer's problems can't be so imposing if her three girlfriends are there to share them.
The best example of this is "Let It Go," written and sung by all four members of the group. Vicki Peterson and Susannah Hoffs play contrasting guitar riffs that linger and mingle in surprising sympathy. Debbi Peterson and Michael Steele join the two guitarists in four-part vocal harmonies that are comforting without showing pity. Singing to a friend who has just suffered a personal disaster, the four women offer reassuring but tough-minded advice: "When it's over, when it's done, let it go."
In their interviews, all four Bangles talk about their childhood infatuations with the Beatles. Their undiminished affection for the mop-tops is all over this record. Vicky Peterson has the George Harrison guitar sound down cold: Her parts are simple but resolutely melodic with just a bit of rockabilly twang -- they always serve the cause of the song.
Her younger sister Debbi slaps the drums just like Ringo, and Michael Steele rolls off Paul's shifting bass lines. When they sing the chorus harmonies, the Bangles' voices become one voice, just as the Beatles' vocals did on their early love songs.
You can hear all these elements come together most winningly on "If She Knew What She Wants." At the same time, the song highlights the Bangles' refreshingly original contributions. For one thing, a synthesizer snakes beneath the ringing guitars to complete the state-of-the-art bright sound.
More importantly, the song has a decidedly female perspective. And the shift from tenor to soprano harmonies makes a big difference on a visceral level.
The Bangles' 1984 album, "All Over the Place," was a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, but it never yielded the hit single they so desperately wanted. So this time out, the group and producer David Kahne sacrificed the diffusion and subtlety of that album for the strong, focused statements of "Different Light." If the lyrics are a bit less sophisticated, the emotional impact of the melodies and harmonies is far more potent.
One of the many musicians who admire the Bangles is Prince, and he wrote their brand new single under the alias of Christopher (the character he plays in his next movie). Even Prince imitates the Beatles on "Manic Monday," a working woman's lament that builds and builds as the harmonies rise melodically and spread expansively.
This album is loaded with potential hit singles, though. Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants" boasts the kind of hook that you can sing before you hear the whole song. Susannah Hoffs' "Walking Down Your Street" has a spunky rock 'n' roll brashness. "September Gurls" by the Box Tops' Alex Chilton has a lazily hypnotic folk-rock feel. Liam Sternberg's "Walk Like an Egyptian" is a wonderfully weird novelty dance tune. Debbi Peterson's "Not Like You" marries a punchy beat and dizzying harmonies.
If the Bangles borrow their vocal harmony style from the Beatles, their ultimate debt is to the Everly Brothers, who so influenced the Fab Four. The Everly Brothers' new album, "Born Yesterday" (Mercury, 826 142-1 M-1), features the same producer (Rockpile's Dave Edmunds), many of the same musicians and material similar to that of the brothers' 1984 comeback album, "EB '84."
As so often happens, though, the follow-up album is far superior. The pressure is off, and the singing brothers sound much more relaxed and comfortable together. Moreover, Edmunds is far less intrusive this time; he goes for a more understated, more country sound that allows the two voices to carry the songs.
That they do splendidly. The gem of this new album is a remake of Dire Straits' "Why Worry," which sounds as if it had been written for the Everlys. As Albert Lee rains down gentle, lyrical guitar solos on the songs, Phil and Don Everly blend into reassuring harmonies as only they can. This ranks as one of the highlights of their long, glorious career.
The album's second-best song is Don Everly's title song, a country soap opera tale that his understated vocal invests with some real heart. The Everlys pull off loose, rollicking rockabilly versions of Rank & File's "Amanda Ruth" and Larry Rasberry's "Always Drive a Cadillac." They give an obscure Bob Dylan tune, "Abandoned Love," a folksy, friendly feeling, complete with a pipes solo by Liam O'Flynn.