But What About the Homeland?

Doll Revolution (Down Kiddie Records)
The Bangles
Kimi Ga Suki* Raifu (CE)
Matthew Sweet

By Kevin Gibson

From the you-can-only-get-this-as-an-import department come two new albums from two vaguely similar, yet also vastly different, artists. Doll Revolution is the first offering by the reunited Bangles since 1988's disappointing Everything. Matthew Sweet, meanwhile, offers up a home recording almost simultaneously with the release of his side project The Thorns. And while these are two guitar-pop artists with successful histories, these albums are like night and day in terms of direction and effectiveness.

It's unclear why the Bangles reunited at all because they have nothing new to say. The best song on the disc, "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," was written by Elvis Costello. Most of these tunes are middling, mid-tempo pop numbers that don't go anywhere and are held back by Vicki Peterson's droning vocals.

Meanwhile, the single, "Something That You Said," which is racing up the charts all over Europe is infectious, if not terribly inventive. But it works primarily through the emotive vocal delivery by Susannah Hoffs. Why does she take lead vocal duties on only five of these 15 songs? It's akin to having Michael Jordan on your team and not letting him shoot. The good news is that this album isn't hamstring by overproduction and intentional commercialism. It feels genuine. But if ego clashes forced Hoffs to the side, the Bangles have cut off their collective nose to spite their face.

With that in mind, thank goodness for Matthew Sweet. He has turned in a musical love letter to the nation of Japan because of the support and affection he has received there over the years. It's a nice gesture and it's also a decent album, especially considering all the songs were written over the course of a week and recorded in Sweet's home.

The raw effect works nicely with this batch of songs and his backing musicians - drummer Ric Menck and guitarist Richard Lloyd - are veterans of the legendary Girlfriend sessions and much of this is vintage Sweet both in sound and execution.

"The Ocean In-Between" carries the same jangly spirit as Girlfriend's "I've Been Waiting," while "I Don't Want to Know" uses Sweet's trademark earnest vocal along with a cool 1960s-sounding hook to beautiful effect. But perhaps the best tune here is the guitar-and-vocals gem "Love is Gone." There is a vague Jethro Tull influence that adds depth to this sad song.

My only complaint is this: The disc is copy-protected. I understand that Sweet doesn't want me burning copies for all my buddies, but I like to create "greatest hits" CDs for myself. Now I can never use any of these tunes for that purpose, making this disc an island in my collection. When you couple that lack of trust with the fact this will never be released in the U.S., I must admit that as a Matthew Sweet fan for more than 10 years, I feel a little unappreciated and abandoned.