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The Ultimate Guilty Pleasure?

Sweetheart of the Sun (Waterfront Records)
The Bangles

Where have the Bangles been all these years? Well, they actually released an under-the-radar album back in the early 2000s titled Doll Revolution -- that actually was fairly so-so. The only song on the disc that really stuck with me was one that happened to be written by a guy named Elvis Costello. Hmm.

But with Sweetheart of the Sun, it really seems like they've found a new stride. The sweet harmonies are still there, but the song arrangements and variations seem much stronger than with Doll Revolution.

Interestingly, what was once every teen-age boy's ultimate guilty pleasure now sounds like a tight rock band. Truth is, they had it in them all along; producer David Kahne, who worked with the band during its heyday, once remarked that because of their vocal abilities and pop sensibilities, they had no choice but to sound commercial. Of course, that was when radio truly appreciated melody.

The new album breaks out of the gate with a really cool guitar hook that leads into a sparkly 1960s-inspired pop-rock tune called "Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)," about the girl everyone envies and wants to be like or be with. It was a pleasant surprise to hear. The best part is that the cool pop tunes keep on coming.

The sweet, if a bit sappy, "I'll Never Be Through With You" offers a stick pop hook to go with a memorable melody, and some nice vocals from the always-alluring Susanna Hoffs, who sounds in perfect form in this set.

Another strong entry is Vicki Peterson's "Circles in the Sky," which offers up a bit of 1960s pop-psychedelia flavor. Best of all is the vocal melody, sung by Peterson with spot-on precision. Her abilities as a vocalist and songwriter always took a back seat to Hoffs, but perhaps not deservedly so.

"Sweet and Tender Romance" is a nice surprise in that it isn't what you expect which an attempt at an "Eternal Flame"-like hit ballad. No, this one is all about rhythm and fuzz guitar, a two-minute rocker that stands out as a result.

There are a few duds here, but all in all, it's a satisfying listen. Some credit has to go to producer Matthew Sweet, who has collaborated with Hoffs and the band previously. He clearly gets what they are about, and did some fine work in bringing out the best in them.

Don't expect a resurgence in popularity from the Bangles based on Sweetheart of the Sun radio has passed the Bangles by. Honestly, I can't think of a better compliment.

Check out bangles.com for more.

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