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TERRY GROSS, host: The Bangles' have a new album. It's called "Sweetheart of the Sun," and it's their first in seven years. The group came to prominence in the 1980s, with such hits as "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Manic Monday" and "Eternal Flame." The original quartet is now down to a trio, Susanna Hoffs and sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the new album is a nostalgia trip for a period that's even older than the Bangles' '80s stardom.


THE BANGLES: (Singing) I'll never have you completely, but somehow I don't care. I don't want to give up these feelings, deep as the ocean, floating on air. And I wish you could love me. But I love you. And I wish you wouldn't leave me. But I'll never be through with you. Oh, say goodbye...

KEN TUCKER: When they started out at the beginning of the 1980s, The Bangles were never part of the Los Angeles punk scene that slightly predated them, with bands such as X, the Germs and the other significant all-girl bands of that era, The Runaways and The Go-Gos. The Bangles were always more interested in jangling guitar sounds, plaintive harmonies, catchy choruses and wistful melancholy. If one of the band's biggest hits, "Walk Like an Egyptian," was a novelty tune, the rest of their catalog was squarely in an older Los Angeles tradition: the 1960s pop of groups such as The Byrds, The Grass Roots and The Mamas and the Papas.


BANGLES: (Singing) Got a picture of you sitting in the kitchen without a stitch on, beautiful and natural as can be. Later in our glowing hours in the garden painting flowers, all the boys they talk to you, want to do more than talk to you. Right now, don't you want to be Anna Lee? Anna Lee.

TUCKER: That's "Anna Lee," subtitled "Sweetheart of the Sun," and the band has said that it was inspired in part by Sheila Weller's recent book "Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation." The Anna Lee to whom this hymn is offered is a kind of composite of the female singer-songwriters to whom The Bangles feel a kinship. You can hear that influence in a song on the new album called "Circles in the Sky," written and sung by Vicki Peterson with backing vocals by her husband, John Cowsill. He's yet another connection to the '60s era, as drummer in the family pop band The Cowsills.


BANGLES: (Singing) In a window small and high, a boy watches the sky, hurrying through monochrome. When they ask him do you know where in the whole world you will go, he doesn't want to go home, home, home. We're all here to wonder: Why is there freefall? Do we fly? Then you and I will make circles in the sky.

TUCKER: At the height of their '80s stardom, The Bangles were writing their own material, as well as covering songs offered to them by admirers ranging from Prince, his "Manic Monday," to Jules Shear, his yearning ballad "If She Knew What She Wants." As attractive women at a time when all-female bands were a novelty, and as makers of pop music, as opposed to supposedly more serious rock, the band didn't get the respect it deserved. But in their home base of Los Angeles, they were the doyennes of a post-punk music scene that came to be called the Paisley Underground, along with bands such as The 3 O'Clock, the Dream Syndicate and Green on Red. The Bangles capture a little bit of this era in a song on "Sweetheart of the Sun" called "What a Life."


BANGLES: (Singing) Another crummy, perfect day, waking up in L.A. I never thought that I would crave for more. (unintelligible). Then they said there's no rain coming. The sun is shinning on me, nearly always does. So what else can I say? What a life. What a life. What a life we lead.

TUCKER: "Sweetheart of the Sun" has been co-produced by master pop singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet, and it includes a cover of Todd Rundgren's "Open My Eyes," a song The Bangles have been playing since the '80s. The greatest thing about this new album is that it's never necessary to have heard a single Bangles song before right now to appreciate the craft and cleverness of the music that they're making. Good pop-rock conquers all time and space.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Sweetheart of the Sun" by the Bangles.

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