Sunday, 11 October 2009

1989 Bangles: Eternal Flame

Something of a break from the norm for Bangles (no 'The') 'Eternal Flame' jettisoned the soft rock power pop that was their former stock in trade and in favour of a ballad that left the guitars unplugged and them emerging from their garage, blinking into the sunlight all the while; yes, 'Eternal Flame' has a definite vibe of sunshine, but the first thing to notice about this is its metronomic quality. Each note chimes with the precise timekeeping tone of a plucked jewellery box comb. Instead of flowing seamlessly, they shift from A to B in a series of definite steps with gaps of nothing in-between.

It's something that lends itself well to the lyrics, sung here by Susanna Hoffs as more or less a series of short, individual statements - i
n the course of the whole song there are only eleven words of more than one syllable, and even these are broken down into their individual components and dictated like learning English by rote:'Close. Your. Eyes. Give. Me. Your. Hand. Dar. Ling. Can. You. Feel. My. Heart. Beat. Ing? Do. You. Un. Der. Stand? - each syllable arrives with it's own stilting anti-tank barrier full stop, a robotic litany that works to prevent any true emotion from breaking through.

Not only that, what also doesn't help on the emotion front is that very same vocal by Hoffs - the thinking of the younger me went 'four women in Bangles and she has the best voice to sing this'?, but looking at it afresh, the song simply wouldn't allow anyone more accomplished to interpret it as they saw fit; it's tied down by its own straitjacket for that. Anyone trying to present the lyric as anything other than clipped statements of intent would soon find themselves lagging behind the hard taskmaster of that mechanical melody; even when the strings swoop down on the middle eight to try to swamp proceedings it's still there, ticking away in the background
(the later cover by Atomic Kitten sidestepped this problem by setting it to a more conventional beat and playing it straight). The only time Hoffs does break ranks to let rip is on the closing 'Flaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmme', but she aims for a note she wouldn't have reached with a fireman's ladder and instead of an arms aloft cry of ecstasy, it's the cracked and broken tones of someone trying to stretch a pane of glass and it sabotages the big climax that 'Eternal Flame' had been quietly building to.

Reading through the above, I'm conscious that I sound far more mean minded about this than I mean to, especially toward a band trying to break their usual mould. 'Eternal Flame' is a pretty enough song to be sure, as pretty as a music box in fact, but that's about where it ends. There's precious little depth to either music or lyrics to keep you coming back for more. Once you've heard one plink plonk cycle of the verse and chorus then you've generally heard enough and it's time to close the lid.

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