Saturday, 10 July 2010
Ok, so my favourite album of all-time is Bananarama's 'Pop Life'. I discovered this album over five years ago when I got it for the first time and started playing it on my CD player everytime I got the bus to Camden to see my ex, LOL. I think it's one of the most creative and exciting pop albums ever in all seriousness. I love the artistic theme behind it - from the artwork, to the videos, to the performances. Every single released from this album was a pop gem and the album tracks were just as exciting and edgy. It's just so wonderful to watch everything related to this era and I think it's such a travesty that it didn't get the attention it well and truly deserved. It was released in 1991, when Bananarama were definitely over their peak and they were starting to move away from the pure-pop sound of Stock Aitken and Waterman that had given them huge hits with 'Venus', 'Love In The First Degree' and 'I Want You Back'. The group were already losing popularity without former member Siobhan Fahey which is another reason why I think they felt more compelled to be daring and different with this album because it was almost as if they had nothing to prove anymore.
The first single to be released was 'Only Your Love' which sampled the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy For The Devil'. Just the idea of crossing Bananarama with the Rolling Stones was a brave move and a bold indication of what the girls wanted to express with this album. The video I think is absolutely AMAZING! I LOVE the colours, the silhouettes, the clothes, the huge shades, the gorgeous dancers. It embraces everything that made Bananarama so big in the first place - drama, campness, self-parody - but just adds that touch of class and sophistication that wasn't there before.
The second single (and biggest hit from the album) was 'Preacher Man' which was probably the only single that sounded like anything they'd done before. I absolutely love the beat to this - it's pure early 90s dance-pop perfection. I've included this performance rather than the video because of their outfits which matched the artwork from the album. For probably the first time in their career the girls were trying to portray a sexy image when for years beforehand they'd come across like tomboys with messed up hair and baggy trousers. It worked well with the more sophisticated sound they were coming out with at this point and it seemed like they'd brought themselves well and truly into the 90s.
For the third single from 'Pop Life' Bananarama made another bold move. Whilst it was yet another cover version for the girls, this time it wasn't a poor carbon copy of the original á la 'Na Na Hey Hey' or 'Help' - for this version of the Doobie Brothers' classic 'Long Train Running' the girls collaborated with the critically-acclaimed Gypsy Kings for a latino-tinged result that was so far-removed from the original they'd made it completely their own. For the video they went all-out with elaborate costumes and make up in something that could probably be compared with Girls Aloud's 2008 video for 'Can't Speak French'. Considering Girls Aloud share the same manager as Bananarama at the time (Hilary Shaw) I'd say this was most definitely an inspiration for the video.
And finally, for my favourite Bananarama - hell, favourite SONG - ever! 'Tripping On Your Love' was the smallest hit of their career, not even charting as the single wasn't even promoted at all due to their manager leaving and Sara being heavily pregnant at the time. This was also the last-ever single to be released by Bananarama as a trio as Jacquie quit the band shortly after this release. All of these facts make it even more disappointing that this single went virtually unnoticed in the UK as I find it one of the most uplifting, exciting songs I've ever heard. The contrast of these uplifting utopian lyrics being sung over this grinding trancey beat for me marks Bananarama's finest moment both creatively and musically and the song still sounds fresh today. It feels like such an injustice that such few people know of this song - I'd love someone big to cover it so that it would become the massive hit it deserves to be.
Aside the singles, there are some absolute classic album tracks on 'Pop Life'. 'What Colour R The Skies Where U Live?' is an epic number beginning with the sounds of waves crashing on the shore building into this raggae-tinted beat before this beautiful song unfolds. A largely instrumental track towards the end of the album 'Megalomanic' is a fantastic fusion of jazz and funk - it feels like the girls are just jamming away in a club in New York or something. 'I Can't Let You Go' is a haunting end to the album with lots of strange echos and sound effects which sounds like someone, probably the girls themselves, was tripping while they were in the studio!
All-in-all this album is such an underrated masterpiece which truly encapsulates the early 90s dance-pop scene with brilliant production, some bold decisions that the girls managed to pull off with ease and a strong visual theme that accompied this change in sound for the girls. If this album had been released by Madonna it would have been huge. For me, I'm proud that Bananarama released this album because for the first time in their career they pushed themselves far beyond anyone's expectations and showed the world they could be different and could be taken seriously as singers/songwriters. When most people think of Bananarama they think of bad hair, bad clothes and bad dancing - some people might just have heard 'Venus' in a club once - if you're one of these people, I hope when you think of Bananarama in future you'll think of fantastic songs like these!