If the last time you thought about Susanna Hoffs was when she was still walking like an glammed-up 1980s-era Egyptian, her charming new EP will provide a new window into the deeper pop and folk talents she possesses.
This five-song set, available for download now through NoiseTrade, precedes Hoffs’ forthcoming solo project Someday — the longtime Bangles frontwoman’s first since 1996. The full album, set for release through the Welk Music Group on July 17, 2012, was produced by Mitchell Froom, known for his work with Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney and Crowded House. (He also played the memorable keyboard riff on the Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday,” from 1986.) In all, Hoffs recorded 10 new songs for Someday, writing eight of them with Nashville musician Andrew Brassell. More recently, Brassell and Hoffs went back into the studio to record these new tracks for NoiseTrade.
Bookended by two Beach Boys-inflected vocal symphonies, themselves small triumphs, Some Summer Days is at its most interesting across its middle as she frontwoman works in a stripped-down acoustic format that would have taken the EP apart at the seams — where Hoffs not so completely in command of her craft, that is.
The opening “Petite Chanson” skips along like a lullaby, with this nostalgia-filled underwater guitar gurgling along even as a countervailing chorus of wordless vocals falls around the cooing Hoffs like a summer sprinkle. It’s pretty, but not entirely unexpected for those who remember the Bangles’ credible reworking of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” back in 1987.
Then comes “Raining (Ragtag Version),” which has a far more Crowded House-ish feel here than in the attached video below. Hoffs sounds emboldened by this version’s determined acoustic riff — and Some Summer Days starts getting scary good. (“Raining,” by the way, was actually a long-unrecorded song Hoffs wrote in 1989 with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.) “One Day (Ragtag Version)” follows with a similar instrumentation, but without the ruminative sensibility of the EP’s previous two songs. As Hoffs sings “I’m going to white out all of my past,” you can almost hear the sound of her rose-colored glasses clattering down there on the floor.
All of that ramps up toward “Always Enough (Ragtag Version),” featuring Hoffs’ most rawly emotional vocal. If the echoing guitar signature sounds just like a question mark, we find no such sense of uncertainty in the unabashedly love-filled lyric. Hoffs throttles into a whisper, and then something only a little louder. When she lets go completely, singing “you’re always enough,” Hoffs sounds something like Dylan — unvarnished, unaware (or uncaring, really) of the sound, completely in the moment. It’s gorgeous. The all-too-brief “Summer Daze,” a simple confection dedicated to the season’s warm sense of reverie, then marks a final return to the layered, West Coast pop of the EP’s opening track.
In the end, though, I’ve found myself returning, again and again, to “Always Enough” — to the exclusion of the rest of Some Summer Days. That song lives up to its title.