Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Bang-Bang - Life Part II
Sometimes everything that could possibly go wrong for a band goes wrong: the wrong look, the wrong music, the wrong time. Certainly, this was the situation for Bang-Bang, a marketing and promotion team’s worst nightmare.
Emerging from the glam and sleaze scene of West Hollywood in the mid-eighties, it seems that everything Bang-Bang did was wrong. Just look at the cover of their only album, Life Part II, and you can see part of the problem. Their look, a glammed out fusion of tailored designer suits and more hair than one had ever seen losing a battle with Aquanet, was more in tune with Duran Duran or a glammed out Japan than the exploding hair metal scene in LA. Unfortunately, those who bought the album expecting bouncing, happy, eighties dance cuts were in for a rude surprise. Their music, a fascinating hybrid of sleaze rock, glam and eighties new-wave wrapped up in songs about reincarnation, religious alienation and the loneliness of love, was far too dark to be Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet. Unfortunately, their off-brand of pop music wasn’t nearly dark enough for the goth crowd over at London’s Bat Cave either. To make matters worse, their driving, synth-laden, funk bass heavy sound was completely out of touch with Motley Crue, Ratt or Poison any of the hundreds of hair metal bands that exploded through the Sunset Strip.
Like I said, sometimes, every thing is wrong.
Even though they were signed to a major label (Epic) it’s clear that the promotion people had no idea how to get the band past those massive hurdles. In the end, they’d just be relegated to the bargain bins of history if it wasn’t for one thing; they were so damn much fun. Some people find the band a guilty pleasure, some find them annoying. I find them oddly irresistible.
Filling a nearly indefinable chasm between new wave and hair metal, Bang-Bang was defined by Julian Raymond, the band’s architect, song-writer and lead hairdo; mixing their own brand of poppy dance rhythms, funk bass and heavy guitars, with Raymond’s dark lyrics and bleeding throat vocals. Like it or hate it, there’s no other voice like Raymond’s, an amazingly unique and expressive instrument, stretching his voice to the breaking point, singing on the very last fiber of his vocal chords.
“Rodeo,” leads us off with a jaunty, bouncy, soul-filled song that at first glance could roll onto Duran’s Rio album, but then, there’s that voice. Instead of giving us a gentle pledge of love to dance across the funky guitar fills, Raymond gives us, “I can’t tell the way I feel, about her/I can’t tell the way I feel, not for sure/about Rodeo.” It’s unclear whether he’s referring to a girl or Rodeo Drive, but the song works either way. “Fallen Leaves,” emerges next, all dark synth-bass and pounding drums, with the amazing juxtaposition of some of the eighties funkiest new wave horns playing behind Raymond’s protestations that, “I see pictures of voices I hear in the night/ I see reasons for living alone in my life.” Again, it's the uncanny contradiction of absolutely funky new wave with out-of-the-blue darkness in lyric that must’ve left the promotional team just scratching their heads.
Bang-Bang did touch upon the hit charts with “This is Love,” about as straight-forward a pop song as they could write with a truly Duran-esque bouncing beat, synth, horn fills and light-hearted tone. But again, look under the surface and the darkness lurks “Taking a chance on a brand new baby/Sitting on a branch with a thousand maybes.” In the end, other than a slightly dated, synth sound and production, the song still bops today.
Other songs hold up just as well. “Shilo,” would be one of the most beautiful love songs of the eighties, easily on par with the best of OMD, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s singing, “we always fight about nothing/she prosecutes with them eyes.” “No Dependencies,” rips out of the speakers, scratching heavy guitar, more in line with Bang Tango than Spandau, as Raymond declares his independence from the church, marriage or any thing else that could tie him down. “Religious Holiday,” a potent anti-religion tirade and the funky-as-hell “Art of Emotion,” still rank up there with the best of the eighties in terms of craft, emotion and balls out fun. Guilty pleasure or not.
Julian Raymond went on to explore his more rock/metal tendencies in the short-lived band Dear Mr. President, before developing a very successful producing career, working with the likes of Fastball, Everclear, The Dandy Warhols, Shawn Mullins, and Cheap Trick. Epic hasn’t re-released Bang-Bang on CD yet, and may never do so. They’re probably just as confused today as they were when the band first came out. But do yourself a favor, track it down on vinyl, find Julian Raymond and send out a demand for a re-issue or keep your eyes peeled and hope. This band is just too damn fun to be lost forever in the annals of the could’ve-beens.
Sing to me, Julian, sing to me.—Racer