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Forget Me Nots: Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy

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Jon O’Brien remembers Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy from 1991

Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy
Having topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with 1989’s Eternal Flame, The Bangles looked set to enter the new decade as the biggest girlband on planet pop. But by the time Clive James was helping to usher in the 90s, the most overground outfit from the Paisley Underground had imploded. 

Jealousy over Susanna Hoffs, the voice behind that epic four-week No.1, getting all the limelight was reportedly the catalyst.

The quartet had always operated democratically, sharing both vocal and songwriting duties pretty much equally on all three of their studio efforts. Even so, with her striking stage presence and a voice that could naturally flit between gravelly rocker and delicate balladeer, Hoffs inevitably became the de facto frontwoman.

The Californian was therefore expected to make the transition to fully-fledged solo artist look effortless. However, things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy, from 1991, could only scrape in at No.56 in the UK. And it fared even worse in her homeland, peaking at a lowly No.83. We can only speculate whether her three ex-bandmates watched on with a sense of schadenfreude.

Looking back at Susanna Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy

Columbia Records certainly wouldn’t have been as satisfied with such a muted response, particularly when they took the album’s costly guest list into account. The Who’s bassist John Entwistle, future American Idol judge Randy Jackson, flower power icon Donovan and founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Benmont Tench, all lent their considerable musical talents.

Songwriting assistance, meanwhile, came from indie icon Juliana Hatfield and Academy Award winner Diane Warren, the latter taking a rare break from her default blockbuster power ballad mode on the perky up-tempo Only Love

Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy, however, rarely reflects its eclectic behind-the-scenes pedigree. In fact, the majority of its 12 tracks aim for the same American new wave-meets-British Invasion pop sound of Hoffs’ former day job.

That’s little surprise when you learn that David Kahne – the man behind two of The Bangles’ biggest hits (Walk Like An Egyptian, If She Knew What She Wants) – served as sole producer.

His involvement no doubt raised a few eyebrows at the time. Kahne’s divide and conquer approach on Different Light reportedly caused major disharmony within the group. And Hoffs would later acknowledge that she lacked both the confidence and the clarity to challenge his ideas as a solo artist, too. 

There’s nothing quite as enjoyably ridiculous as Walk Like An Egyptian or as majestic as Manic Monday here. But co-written with two other regular collaborators, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (Eternal Flame, In Your Room), the dreamy lead single My Side Of The Bed would sit comfortably on a Bangles Best Of.

Likewise the driving power pop of This Time and the bittersweet mid-tempo No Kind Of Love, whose gorgeous sun-drenched harmonies suggest the Peterson sisters and Michael Steele wandered into the studio for a brief reunion. 

Even when she breaks away from her tried-and-tested formula, Hoffs still keeps at least one foot in the mid- to late-80s. The strutting synth-pop of So Much For Love gets into the groove of Madonna’s first imperial phase, while That’s Why Girls Cry is the kind of buoyant bubblegum number you could imagine Tiffany belting out at a shopping mall.

A relatively faithful, but ultimately pointless, cover version of Cyndi Lauper ballad Unconditional Love even neatly brings things full circle: many Americans were first introduced to The Bangles as a support act on the colourful singer’s 1984 Fun tour.  

Had Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy hit the shelves just a few years earlier, then audiences may well have been more receptive. In 1991, though, it sounded like an artist slightly afraid to move on.

Compare and contrast to Live Your Life Be Free, an album released by another raspy-voiced, power-pop girl group graduate later that same year.

With its world music flourishes and ventures into funk, dance-pop and doo-wop, Belinda Carlisle’s fourth LP was markedly different from the brash punk-pop of The Go-Go’s. Hoffs waits until the closing number to do something outside of the box. 

David Bowie purists, however, may well wish she hadn’t. Yes, When You’re A Boy concludes with a curious rendition of Boys Keep Swinging, the gender-challenging glam rock anthem which gave the Thin White Duke his final UK Top 10 hit of the 1970s: its lyrics also inspired the album’s title. 

Hoffs had form when it came to the nostalgic cover, of course, with The Bangles putting their spin on Big Star’s September Gurls, The Merry-Go-Round’s Live and, most famously, Simon And Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade Of Winter.

Sadly, her treatment of the first single from Bowie’s Berlin trilogy closer Lodger is hampered – like much of the record – by Kahne’s muddy production and a bizarre detour into bleepy electronica. 

Yet it’s the only real misfire on a long-player which, although short on invention, isn’t lacking in winning melodies and infectious riffs.

Hoffs is also in fine vocal form, particularly on Wishing On Telstar – a wistful ode to the communications satellite, not The Tornados’ classic instrumental – and It’s Lonely Out Here, a stomping mix of Hammond organ and bluesy guitar licks which allows her to truly cut loose. 

Hoffs would go on to have more input on the belated 1996 sophomore eponymous album which spawned her only solo UK Top 40 hit, a bittersweet take on The Lightning Seeds’ All I Want. But as with its predecessor, Susanna Hoffs was also entirely overlooked.

It would take another decade for her to find a niche outside The Bangles – the Under The Covers trilogy recorded with power pop revivalist Matthew Sweet earned some of the best reviews of her career.   

Yet you could argue that Hoffs still never really fulfilled the potential promised by her centre stage moments in one of the 80s’ defining girlbands. Susannah Hoffs’ When You’re A Boy should have been the launchpad for a glittering solo career.

By playing it just a little too safe first time around, though, the most visible Bangle instead ended up sadly fading from view. 

Read our Top 10 girlband singles of the 80s feature 

Visit The Bangles’ website here

 

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Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher dies age 60

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Andy Fletcher

Andy Fletcher, founding member and keyboardist of Depeche Mode, has died at the age of 60. No cause of death has been disclosed.

“We are shocked and filled with overwhelming sadness with the untimely passing of our dear friend, family member, and bandmate Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher,” the band wrote in a statement.

“Fletch had a true heart of gold and was always there when you needed support, a lively conversation, a good laugh, or a cold pint. Our hearts are with his family, and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts and respect their privacy in this difficult time.” 

Fletcher formed Depeche Mode in 1980 alongside Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Vince Clarke, releasing their debut album, Speak & Spell, a year later.

Depeche Mode were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

 





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Marc Almond announces rescheduled 2022 tour dates

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Marc Almond tour 2022

Marc Almond has announced his rescheduled tour dates for October 2022 adding extra dates in Liverpool, Buxton, York and Cambridge. Says Almond: “The fans have been so understanding and patient through the endless rescheduling due to the pandemic but now we have confirmed these dates I can’t wait to get back on stage.”

All the original dates are the same venues with the exception of the London Roundhouse show which is being moved to the London Palladium. All tickets bought from the Roundhouse will be refunded. Tickets bought on Ticketmaster will be automatically transferred to the Palladium show.

Almond will be singing songs from his last solo album, Chaos and a Dancing Star, released in March 2020plus many faves from his extensive catalogue.

His last album was released to critical acclaim just before the pandemic and lockdown. The singer was able to perform a one-off concert in February 2020 at the Festival Hall with co-writer Producer Chris Braide, joined by guest Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

Marc Almond’s career, spanning over four decades, has seen him receive an Ivor Novello Inspiration Award in 2013, a Brit Award as well as an OBE in the 2018 New Year Honours for his services to arts and culture. His latest album with Soft Cell, *Happiness Not Included, was released earlier this year.

Tickets for the rescheduled dates (Manchester, Glasgow, Bexhill and Birmingham) are on-sale now and available from Ticketmaster.

The new dates in Liverpool, Buxton, York, and Cambridge, as well as the London date, will go on-sale on Friday 27th May.

All tickets for the rescheduled shows remain valid except for the London show unless purchased on Ticketmaster.

Tour Dates

16 October         London Palladium – * VENUE CHANGE

17 October         Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – *NEW SHOW

18 October         Manchester Bridgewater Hall

20 October        Buxton Opera House – *NEW SHOW

21 October         York Barbican – *NEW SHOW

22 October         Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

24 October         Bexhill De La Warr Pavillion

25 October         Cambridge Corn Exchange – *NEW SHOW

26 October         Birmingham Symphony Hall

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Listen to “Sunburn” by Sylvan Esso

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I wanted to spotlight Sylvan Esso because electronic music coverage has been scarce of late in the blog. The acclaimed duo have new music out by way of the track “Sunburn“. They are not without a legion of fans. Although I have looked into them frequently, the full extent of their allure didn’t yet rub off on me. They are a band with festival and TV appearances aplenty and a Grammy nomination under their belt. Their popularity is such that I do not think my quiet period of indifference has much impact on them, though.

Since the sun put in an appearance the last weekend. I just felt it appropriate that I slap “Sunburn,” the latest from Sylvan Esso, streaming into my earbuds and seeing what effect it would have on me. Let me begin by first saying I felt the hypnotic pull of the track. (The bass line pops off like the little explosions popcorn kernels make when in a pan, heat on and with a lid firmly in place). This I found immediately transfixing.

Equally, the dreamy vocals by Amelia Meath of the duo exhibit wholly mesmeric properties. “Sunburn” is more of a stripped-back track that relies on a steer of catchy rhythm and blippy electronic bleeps.

Listen on Apple Music

When seeking an electronica hit that is uncluttered but still attention-grabbing. Plugging into “Sunburn” by Sylvan Esso is a move well made. Listening to the song, not only are we swept up in the feverish rhythm. We also get a sweet reminder about the after-effects of sitting out in the sun for too long. The metaphor extends much further than that. As the duo’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn explain:

Sunburn” is: eating candy till you’re sick or riding your bike too fast down a hill.”

Coming, from not being sure about them to then having their skittish electronic track, “Sunburn,” firmly stuck in my head. I guess I don’t mind Sylvan Esso after all.

Connect with Sylvan Esso
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SylvanEsso/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sylvanesso
instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sylvanesso/





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