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Material, Girls!

CHECK LIST **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

***THE BANGLES. “Everything.” Columbia. On their last album, the Bangles wrote their own songs and filled in the blanks with tunes by off-center composers like Prince, Jules Shear, Liam Sternberg and Alex Chilton. On their new one, they spend most of their time collaborating with mainstream pro songwriting concerns like Billy Steinberg-Tom Kelly and Eric Lowen-Dan Navarro.

These guys may know their triplets and treble clefs, but when it comes to melodic hooks and pop effervescence, the four L.A. girls did better on their own. The uneventful craftsmanship submitted by the hired hands dampens the natural liveliness of the Bangles’ contemporized folk-rock sound.

But marginal material can’t mask the Bangles’ enduring strength--four terrific and distinctive lead voices. Even on songs that go nowhere, Vicki and Debbie Peterson and Michael Steele bring to bear an effortless, involving warmth, while Hoffs’ pinched, girl-group style provides an effective (if somewhat affected) contrast.

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The songs faring best are “Complicated Girl” and “Make a Play for Her"--both melancholy tunes sung by a girl to a boy who has his eye on another girl--and “The Glitter Years,” Steele and White’s rememberance of things crashed. But only “Crash and Burn,” a Buddy Holly-cadence rocker by Vicki and Rachel Sweet, gives off the smoke of spontaneous rock ‘n’ roll--the feeling that it’s taking shape right in front of you. It ends the album on an up note and an incomplete line, perhaps suggesting that this is where they’ll pick things up next time around. Let’s just hope they do it themselves.


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