“I love your Portable column,” a friend recently told me, “but honestly, the songs you write about aren’t really guilty pleasures.” The fact that we were naked in a swimming pool at the time of this exchange might lead you to correctly guess that it takes a lot for my friends and I to feel guilty about anything, but nonetheless, I set out to choose a song this week that no one will think you’re cool for listening to.
The irony is that it’s a song by a woman who led one of the coolest bands of the 80s, a pretty cool decade to have a cool band in. The band was the Bangles, whose background in L.A.’s retro-tuneful Paisley Underground scene served them well when the band’s all-female lineup hit MTV with drop-dead gorgeous looks, sleek production, and songs that still unfailingly elicit cheers when they’re cued up at karaoke bars.
When the Bangles hit the skids in the late 80s, Hoffs seemed poised to launch a solo career of Sting-like proportions. That didn’t happen, though — whether because of poor judgment, lackluster material, or just plain bad luck, her solo debut album When You’re a Boy was critically panned and failed to do anything resembling Bangles-esque business in record stores, so Columbia let her go and that was that.
Hoffs also made an attempt at a film career, which began inauspiciously with a now-notorious 1987 film called The Allnighter directed by her mother Tamar Simon Hoffs, currently holding down a solid 0% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The lesson Susanna — and all of us — learned from that film is that if your mother wants to use you as eye candy in a B-movie in which you star as a college girl desperate to lose her virginity when you’re actually in your late 20s and one of the biggest rock stars in the world, you should tell Mom politely no. Watch the Allnighter trailer below (yes, that is Joan Cusack)…
A Bangles reunion was sparked by Hoffs’s next venture into film, a cameo in Austin Powers — directed by her husband Jay Roach — as a member of the fictitious band Ming Tea. Also in Ming Tea was Matthew Sweet, with whom Hoffs later collaborated on a couple of 60s and 70s cover albums.
That brings us to 2012, when Hoffs releases her third solo album, her first in 16 years. Someday, produced by Mitchell Froom, is a perfectly pleasant album that reveals Hoffs to be in full voice and capable of writing a solid album’s worth of songs that remind you both of the Linda Ronstadt 70s and the Susanna Hoffs 80s. No official videos have yet been released from the album, but there’s a poignant video featuring a live performance of “Raining” from the celebrity chat show Extra. The clip was shot at a “celebrity hot spot” (to be precise, a mall) called The Grove, and the way voices and clinking plates are audible throughout the performance gives the video the feeling of a once-great actor doing Death of a Salesman at a dinner theater. The clip has been getting about 35 views a day on YouTube.
If you ask me, though, Susanna Hoffs is still great. There’s no word on whether she recorded any of her current album naked (as she did the Bangles song “Eternal Flame,” convinced by her producer that’s how Olivia Newton-John did it), but she’d probably look pretty great doing it — and she certainly sounds great. Still, you won’t earn any cool points by putting “Raining” on a summer BBQ playlist. If you need a guiltier pleasure than that, The Allnighter is now available on DVD.