Out & About

It's little wonder that Susanna Hoffs got the old band back together again for one last spin down Amnesia Lane; the dormant superstar in her has yet to fully take to the soccer mom she has become. Three and a half years ago, Hoffs sat in a West Los Angeles rehearsal complex and pondered how she had managed to go from chart-topper to nice-price bargain buy. As the unknown, untalented, and unwanted cranked up their poodle-puffy El Lay metal from neighboring rooms, Hoffs spoke sadly of aborted albums (she made one in 1993, featuring songs by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous and performances by Richard Thompson and members of Cracker, that was never released despite its occasional moments of dazzle and delight) and burst blood vessels in her throat that kept her from touring in February 1997, when she was supposed to go on the road supporting her second solo album. She talked about how much she despised 1991's When You're a Boy, released two years after she disbanded the Bangles: "I can't really listen to that record," she said, insisting Columbia Records forced her to polish off its edges until it no longer cut even melted butter. And she talked about the so-called Lost Years: During the 1990s, she performed around Los Angeles at various clubs with the likes of Money Mark and Jason Falkner, broke up with Donovan Leitch, married director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), had a son, seriously contemplated playing open-mike nights, and couldn't even listen to music, much less make it. "I felt like someone threw me on the life raft and set me out on the ocean and I was just out there with no rope to hang on to and no ship to come pick me up," she said, proving there's a fine line between a reason and an excuse. "I felt like I was stranded. That's how it felt. I felt really horrible being stuck on a label and not knowing if I was gonna ever have another record come out or if I would ever be able to do another concert again. I didn't know what to do."Then, she did: She began phoning up the girls, asking bassist Michael Steele and guitarist Vicki Peterson and her drum-kit sister Debbie to re-form the very band she walked away from in 1989. They were reticent, at best, to hook up once more with Hoffs, insisting they went out on top, which is fair enough if you're being literal: "Eternal Flame," the soft-as-a-sponge single from the finale Everything, was atop the charts when the band went bust. Perhaps that alone forced the women to reconsider: The Bangles ended up appearing in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me with a brand-new song titled "Get the Girl" (which doesn't show up on the soundtrack album, inexplicably) that seems to exist solely to erase the memory of that golden, soggy adios. Then, the fix was in: By the time the Bangles turned up on Behind the Music, they were at once pointing fingers--it was all Susanna's fault, ya know--and talking about going back into the studio to cut another album, to be released this year. Seems it's easy to bury the hatchet when the lead singer's willing to swallow her pride with a chaser; Hoffs now needs the Petersons and Steele far more than they ever needed her. And if you don't believe that, then you never heard Hoffs' cover of "Stuck in the Middle with You."

By all accounts, the band's September "surprise" club gig at L.A. hipster hang Spaceland was a hits-and-miss affair, full of all the old faves ("Manic Monday" and "Walk Like an Egyptian" included, for worse or worse), the obligatory covers (from Lou Reed's "Waiting for the Man" to Paul Simon's "Hazy Shade of Winter," still the best thing the Bangles ever recorded), and a handful of new songs from the forthcoming album that still has no home. (One writer referred to the band's performance as alternately "dreamy" and "shaky," which is the most half-hearted endorsement since John McCain supported Dubya.) Hope only that the new songs are better than the band's last batch: Everything wasn't much of anything, as the women played it straight and serious and came up only with clichéd, derivative la-la-love songs. But in the end, theirs is a reunion one can get behind, if only because the Bangles always promised more than they delivered, meaning they were never as good as you knew they could, should, and would be. All Over the Place was a wonderful debut, 1960s paisley-pop as reimagined by 1980s September gurls, but the best songs on the second record were the covers (all penned by men); you got the feeling the label had no idea what she (or she or she or she) wanted at all. Maybe this go-around, with expectations lower than the Dead Sea, they won't need to be graded on a curve. And it could be worse: It could be Bananarama getting back together.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky