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BANANARAMA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Deep Sea Diving (London) 1983
Bananarama (London) 1984
True Confessions (London) 1986
Wow! (London) 1987
The Greatest Hits Collection (London) 1988
Pop Life (London) 1991

Keren Woodward, Sarah Dallin and Siobhan Fahey became a trio in London in 1979. They first gained notoriety singing with the Fun Boy Three, who later returned the favor by producing and backing them on their earliest singles. Deep Sea Skiving essentially compiles their first string of infectious 45s, encompassing a panoply of styles: percussive Afro-beat ("He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'"), girl-group soul ("Shy Boy"), '60s chart silliness ("Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye") and lush pop ("Cheers Then"). Additionally, Deep Sea Skiving offers Paul Weller's "Doctor Love," the charming and light "Hey Young London" and the morose "What a Shambles." An assortment of producers yields little uniformity of sound, but the ensemble vocals provide the crucial character regardless of setting.

For their first real album, Bananarama gave the ball to hitmakers Swain and Jolley (Spandau, Alison Moyet, Imagination) who, as is their custom, co-wrote the material. Over the lush, highly arranged backing, the ladies croon two wonderful singles — the evocatively tropical "Cruel Summer" (a hit, one year apart, in the UK and US) and "Robert De Niro's Waiting." Otherwise, the album deflects much of the trio's engaging individuality and substitutes a vacuous sheen that's too functional and defeats their ingenuous image. Bananarama isn't bad — the vocals are charming in any case — but it is forgettable.

Although Swain and Jolley still held the reins for True Confessions, they lost their franchise to the up-and-coming Stock-Aitken-Waterman team, who placed two sides on the LP, including an irresistibly catchy disco remake of Shocking Blue's "Venus" that topped the American charts. Overall, True Confessions is a limp outing that sculpts a refined adult sound, evaporating the group's youthful vitality and charm in the process.

Capitalizing on their Moroder-based sequencer formula, Stock, Aitken and Waterman wrote, produced and programmed Wow!, a peppy synth-driven dance record that disguises Bananarama's vocal limitations in an overwhelming wash of electronic music simulation. The crass gimmickry and mock-Supremes arrangements of "I Heard a Rumour" and "I Can't Help It" are as predictable as the tunes are unshakable; the rest of the album's tracks resemble those two so closely they might as well be remixes. (The UK CD and cassette actually include bonus remixes.) Sure it's total trash, but what else does a car need to keep it running in the hot summer sun?

In late '87, following Wow!'s success, Fahey (by then married to Dave Stewart of Eurythmics) left the band and was replaced by Jacquie O'Sullivan, formerly of the Shillelagh Sisters. It would have been nice if the resulting compilation album had carefully sealed the original group's best and biggest tunes in a time capsule, but The Greatest Hits Collection mixes in a couple of items by the new lineup and includes before-and-after photos as well. Considered as an overall oeuvre (well...), there's a lot more crap than quality here; the handful of charming pop gems are swamped by craven trash.

[Ira Robbins]
   See also Shakespear's Sister