When The Supremes lost Diana Ross, Berry Gordy Jr. replaced her with another female singer. Although the substitute had talent, fans never considered the resulting trio the equivalent of the first group. The new Supremes soon disappeared with barely a whimper from the listening public. Many Brits considered Bananarama the ‘80s English equivalent of The Supremes. The UK girl group’s singles set sales records that still stand today. The band broke up more than a decade ago and made a few stabs at a comeback in different incarnations, but Bananarama has not been around much. Like The Supremes, the trio seemed more of a pleasant memory more than a vital band.
Surprise! Bananarama is back, and they sound better than ever. While today’s Bananarama consists of only two-thirds of the original group, the new album Drama may be the best one the band has ever made. Okay, Bananarama doesn’t make albums as much as let writers, musicians, and producers mold the singers into part of a product, but is that really any different than what Motown did with The Supremes? At least Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward never had to attend company training to learn how to act on stage. Coming up through the ranks of punk (they were initially discovered by the Sex Pistols’ drummer Paul Cook), these D.I.Y. girls invented their own style of impoverished glamour and were embraced by everyone from John Peel to Iggy Pop to Paul Weller (the latter of whom ever wrote a song for their first album).
The new record is a strange mix of ‘70s disco and contemporary electronica clearly designed for the dance floor. The synthesizer and percussive sound effects are the main instruments. The songs are beat heavy and rely on repetition to build a groove. Dallin and Woodward don’t express much emotion, but build candy floss castles of sweet and seductive sounds filled with catchy hooks to snare the listener. They let the rhythms percolate underneath while promising pleasurable sensations. Oh baby, yes, let’s float away on love.
Most of the time, the two women sing in whispery voices at high octaves to create ethereal harmonies. This also gives the music a come-hither breathlessness, which is frequently matched by the lyrics. “I just took a bite / from your sweet mouth,” begins the wet dream “Waterfall” (not to be confused with the big hit with the same name from that other all girl trio of the past, TLC). “I can’t let go / and I can’t say no to you,” goes the chorus of the vampy “Frequency”. The titles of other songs, such as “Your Love is Like a Drug”, “Rules of Attraction”, and “Lovebite”, indicate the prevalence of sex as the most common theme.
Despite a few forays into seriousness, the coolest Bananarama songs were never really deep. The group had an attitude and a look, a cool, sultry sound, and a sense of fun. Heck, the group’s name itself is pretty silly. Bananarama still displays these characteristics to full effect. Plus the dance rhythms here are really infectious. Drama may lack any seriously dramatic moments, but it is ideal music to pose dramatically with on the dance floor. Can you say vogue? There has always been a campiness to Bananarama’s music. When the girls sang, “I’m your Venus,” they proclaimed their regal glory in a coded gay fashion. They’ve included a Marc Almond’s Hi NRG showgirls remix of the band’s number one smash, “Venus” here as a bonus track, along with a six-minute remix of “Really Saying Something” by Salasso. The new versions are even more flirtatious then the originals and fit right in with the other songs here. These girls still want to be your goddesses of love and the girls next door, only now they want to dance as well.