Some bands might be satisfied with racking up a collection of instantly recognizable hits, influencing a new generation of pop stars and stopping there. But for the Go-Go's, a stellar legacy just wasn't enough. So, singer Belinda Carlisle, bassist Kathy Valentine and guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock, responsible for such classics as "Our Lips Are Sealed," "We Got The Beat," "Vacation," and "Head Over Heels" decided to make a whole new album.
"It's about time, don't you think?" says Schock, with a laugh.
God Bless the Go-Go's is truly a 21st Century Go-Go's LP. It reflects the exuberance the band has maintained through time and experience, bursting with the energy of their earliest albums, 1981's unforgettable Beauty And The Beat, the perfect pop of 1982's Vacation and its1984 follow-up hit, Talk Show.
All the hallmarks of the Go-Go's sound are here: the '60s surf and girl-group influence, the buzzy, punk-pop guitar, the rich vocal harmonies and that instant girl-bonding spirit that made the band so endearing. But this isn't a nostalgia trip. Sure, the Go-Go's colorful, sometimes turbulent history got the recent in-depth VH-1 Behind The Music treatment, but they never intended to rest on their laurels. Indeed, they started writing new songs as a way of traveling someplace else besides Memory Lane.
Since breaking up in 1985, they have re-united for several concert tours: in 1990 to support the hits collection, Greatest; in 1994 to promote the double-CD retrospective Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's; and in 1999 for another series of acclaimed performances.
"There was always that unmistakable energy we have when we're together," says Carlisle. "Being back on stage together," Wiedlin adds, "made us realize that we still had music in us that hadn't come out yet." Writing new material was also a way of keeping things interesting. "We couldn't just trot out the same songs over and over, forever," Valentine says. Additionally, the Go-Go's were inspired by how many young girls and new fans came out to see their shows. So inspired that by the time the ladies were ready to enter the studio, they had written over 50 brand new songs.
"To me, it seemed like the songs kind of fell out of the sky," says Caffey. "It was effortless, in a way."
Caffey continues, "We have a legacy of certain classic songs. We had to use that as a standard and also try to reflect where we are now."
Helping with the process of nodding to the past and living in the present in this manner were Boston-based producer/engineers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, whose extensive and varied credits include work with Radiohead, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Hole and others. "We really made a good choice with those guys," says Carlisle. "They were able to bring a modern sound to the album. It could've very easily sounded like 1982, and we didn't want that." Adds Schock, "This record is more how the band sounds live, which is what we've always tried to capture but couldn't."
That "sparkly California pop" tradition (as Belinda refers to it), sounds fresh as soon as you hear the very first big guitar chords of "Unforgiven." Co-written by Wiedlin, Caffey and Green Day frontguy Billie Joe Armstrong, (the ladies met him when he attended a Go-Go's show in Northern California), the song's driving exuberance wouldn't be out of place on the radio sandwiched between, say, No Doubt and the Offspring. But also immediately recalls the peppier numbers from Beauty And The Beat (remember, "How Much More?"). Says Wiedlin, "We approached Billie Joe because Charlotte and I love Green Day." Laughing, she says of Armstrong's punk-pop heroes, "They were influenced by us, and then we ended up getting re-influenced by them."
Other God Bless... highlights include the quintessentially Go-Go's "Stuck In My Car," the poignant and autobiographical "Daisy Chain," the anthemic "Throw Me A Curve," gritty groove rocker "Kissing Asphalt," and the moody "Automatic Rainy Day." Not to mention, pop gems "Apology" and "Vision Of Nowness," inspired by Sammy Davis Jr's reaction to meeting Belinda. Other outside writers collaborating with the band members include the Bangles' Susanna Hoffs ("Talking Myself Down") That Dog's Anna Waronker ("I Think I Need Sleep") and Lenny Kravitz guitarist Craig Ross.
For the Go-Go's "fun" has always been the operative word. But, Valentine remembers, "There was a time around our third album when we were getting very sick of the fun, bubbly image. We really wanted to break out of that." Some years later, while at a B-52's show with Charlotte, she wondered, "Why was it so important to us that we be taken seriously?" At that moment, we realized that it's fine to just be what you are." As well, true wisdom apparently really does come with age. "Yeah, we think we're a little more mature, at times," says Charlotte. "But we're not that mature. We're a rock band!"