Christ, it's taken long enough to get this record out -- 17 years to be exact! So long that the five women in America's quintessential girl group are now in their mid- forties and, until now, had released just as many best-of compilations as studio records. But fans of the "old" Go-Go's need not worry about a radical shift in sound with God Bless the Go-Go's. The new music isn't too far removed from the pert punk-pop of yesteryear, although it's welcomely imbued with a more mature outlook and contemporary feel.

The Go-Go's announce their return with "La La Land," a bouncy if empty ode to their hometown. It would have been better to launch their first studio disc since 1984's Talk Show with "Unforgiven" (co-written with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, who also does backup vocals) or the commuter-in-hell ditty "Stuck in My Car," both worthy of their best '80s songs. "Kissing Asphalt" makes a solid little rocker, and "Talking Myself Down" exudes a mature sexuality that only age can bring and was co-written with Bangle Susanna Hoffs. (Where's that Go-Go's/Bangles tour?)

Finally, Belinda Carlisle spiritually joins hands with Sir Mix-A-Lot when she announces that she'd "rather be a pinup girl than zero size" in "Throw Me a Curve," an anti-anorexic girl anthem to rival the Seattle rapper's "Baby Got Back." And if you've seen this month's Playboy with Carlisle on the cover, you'll see she's taken the song to heart (although it doesn't match guitarist Jane Wiedlin's kinky montage in a recent issue of a national S&M magazine). In fact, the entire group must have made a deal with a dark deity not named in the title, as all manage to look the same as or better than their younger selves.

There are some clunkers -- "Vision of Nowness" (the phrase that the late Sammy Davis Jr. used to sum up Carlisle) drowns in its own pretentiousness; the lovelorn "Here You Are" is a big yawn; and "Daisy Chain"'s attempt to summarize the Go-Go's story comes off as trite and simple if you've seen their Behind the Music episode with its revelations of extreme catfighting, cocaine nosebleeds and groupie-boy abuse. (Particularly upsetting, that last one, now that their fans are old enough to drive to the show…)

Carlisle's vocals (which were never strong) are even a bit more watery here, but the material isn't too taxing. The band's arrangements, held together by Gina Schock's underrated drumming, are both tight and forceful, though Wiedlin -- always the most oddball Go-Go on and off the stage -- seems a bit restrained.

Overall, how you feel about God Bless the Go-Go's and this reunion tour will probably depend on how you've always felt about the band. Now that there's fresh material to intersperse with Big '80s classics like "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Vacation" and "Head over Heels," the Go-Go's hope to have a second stab at national success, or at least another underwear cover on Rolling Stone. Best keep those subscriptions current.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero