wears the trousers magazine

bananarama: viva (2009)
September 22, 2009, 9:03 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,


Viva ••

During the last decade of the Cold War, when the Earth stood perpetually poised on the brink of mutually assured destruction, TV documentaries would often surmise about what, if anything, might survive a nuclear exchange. It was generally considered that a few hardy types of insects would still be busy about their business in amongst the carnage. As too, it was sometimes suggested, would Bananarama. Nothing, not even Soviet missiles and a questionable alliance with Pete Waterman could destroy them. They were simply that fierce, laughing in the faces of people who would write them off as a couple-of-hit wonders.

Emerging out of a post-punk milieu as students of fashion journalism (courted, unsuccessfully, by Malcolm McLaren), they gained their first major break after a feature on the band in The Face led to Terry Hall seeing them as the perfect foil for his deadpan delivery on Fun Boy Three’s ’It Aint What You Do’ in 1982. The Fun Boys soon returned the favour by appearing on Bananarama’s cover of The Velvettes’ Motown classic, ‘He Was Really Saying Something’ later that year, by which time the Nanas’ star was in the ascendant. Such patronage, eclectic musical referencing, a quirky cool-but-achievable image, a can’t-really-be-bothered vocal delivery and a handy ability to say interesting things in interviews made the original trio of Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin hot pop property. The wheels of the credibility bus began to fall off around the same time as a partnership with Stock, Aitken & Waterman led to Fahey’s departure, but the payoff was worldwide number ones and a renewed spell in the limelight, becoming Smash Hits favourites alongside the likes of Bros and Kylie & Jason.

Three decades after their formation Woodward and Dallin are still touting the Bananarama brand on their tenth album Viva. Produced by Ian Masterson, a man whose knob-twiddling credits include Dannii Minogue, and Geri Halliwell, it’s an unashamed stab at the inoffensive electro-pop of now. Sadly, it’s just not a very good one. While lead track and interest-sparking single, the ultra-dancefloor, amorous ‘Love Comes’ might have raised expectations, what follows frequently sounds like aural leftovers from the bands that followed in their wake. They were never meant to sound like Girls Aloud, let alone The Saturdays, and despite their best efforts they still don’t. But it was always a threadbare ambition for a duo with their pedigree to cling to in the first place. A truly head-scratching cover of iiO’s 2002 Eurodance hit ‘Rapture’ comes across like karaoke ABBA, while bland robo-pop attacks such as ‘Seventeen’ get you pining for ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ and wondering about Fahey’s whereabouts.

Elsewhere, a cover of Fox’s ‘Single Bed’ aims for low-slung funk but ends up teetering over the edge into wince-inducing risibility with disturbing vocoder overtones of Cher. ‘Twisting’ stands out merely by virtue of the company it’s keeping, the mock-operatics of ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ could make a passable Pet Shop Boys album track, while the chorus of ’Dum Dum Boy’ is sadly of the kind that gives pop a bad name. By the end of it you’re left feeling unfulfilled and scratching your head. Neither truly disposably current, nor imbued with the endearing amateurish ethic of their DIY youth, Viva is the sound of a band who have long since given up on all that made them interesting. While not being dreadful, it’s just kind of average and shamelessly free of the personality that secured them their longevity. As unofficial godmothers to the all-female pop groups that have emerged over the past 25 years we should probably expect more than what Viva has to offer. Who is this aimed at? Who would buy it? It seems to have less clue than the listener.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 14/09/09; www.myspace.com/bananarama


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[…] was just last week that we were mulling over the whereabouts of Siobhan Fahey while evaluating the latest comeback by her former band Bananarama, and today we have an answer. Finally, seven years on from her first solo single ‘Bitter […]

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