Bananarama: Deep Sea Skiving UK CD 
- Shy Boy
- Doctor Love
- What A Shambles
- Really Saying Something [He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’]
- Cheers Then
- Young At Heart
- Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
- Hey Young London
- Boy Trouble
- Wish You Were Here
Bananrama were one of the UK pop pleasures of the “New Pop” era though they were hardly of that more theoretical ilk. But they were certainly concurrent with your ABCs and your Simple Minds. I first heard them when MTV showed their video for the cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland chestnut “Really Saying Something.” There was not much to hate when presented with three women singing in unison over a rhumba percussion bed full of odd sonic details that managed to sound loose and handmade during a time of encroaching Linn Drum Computers and digital samplers. The production on the piano was the furthest thing from slick, and the whole affair, while professional enough, didn’t reek of too much in the way of packaging or grooming. I bought the 1982 US LP of this title when I saw a used promo copy in the bins and that was what I listened to until 1986, when the title finally made it to the ultramodern CD format.
The first track on side one was one of the five singles on this album, and one of their best! “Shy Boy” was helmed by Swain + Jolley, who were one of four producers on this cobbled together album. The drum programming was simple, but effective as the ladies went for girl group gold with a tale of the self-effacing guy of their collective dreams. There’s almost nothing to the song except for rhythm programming and percussion together with some synth bass. It’s an airy concoction that set the pace for their early period.
The next track was the one that was an outlier for the dark future of the band that was yet to come for an album or two. “Doctor Love” was a Paul Weller [?] tune as produced by Barry Blue and it was one of two songs on London Records in 1982 by that title. The other one was a much better song on Mari Wilson’s “Showpeople” album. The vibe on this one was crass synth-funk complete with the women going “whooo!” A gambit that would come to haunt them in several years. The hyperkinetic level on energy on this one really went against the Bananarama grain, which to my ears sounded much more laid-back and easygoing. The B.P.M. here was easily 50% more than any of the other tracks here. It was the one jarring misstep here.
The ladies finally got some publishing income on the third song, “What A Shambles” which they co-wrote with Terry Sharpe [ex-Starjets, future-Adventures]. The track had a sweet melancholy that was of the kind that I associated with this band moving forward. Dave Jordan produced the hit “Really Saying Something” and brought Fun Boy Three to the table to provide backing vocals since Bananarama had earlier guested on FB3’s “It Ain’t What You Do [It’s The Way That You Do It” the previous year. Jordan’s production was much more shambolic than the slicker wares that Barry Blue or Swain + Jolley proffered here. In an alternate universe, I would have loved to have heard the whole album under his tutelage.
The third single in sequence was the wistful “Cheers Then” which was so light and airy, that it threatened to float off of the turntable. Given the bittersweet nature of the lyric [a goodbye to an old friend, again written between the band and Terry Sharpe] this was maybe a slight shortcoming. At the very least, the dreamy production lent the song a nostalgic air. The US LP was a ten track affair, but this CD was of the UK edition of the album; it came with the band’s debut single added to the flow. The song “Aie A Mwana,” sung in Swahili, was a joint Paul [Sex Pistols] Cook, John Martin, Sarah Dallin production. It’s a sweetly shambolic faux-African production with a touch of dub [and sax].
“Young At Heart” was a song the band co-wrote with Robert Hodgens of The Bluebells; whose one recording of the song would appear as a single in 1984. It was another bittersweet pop song with a conspicuously upbeat backing track that played against the downbeat lyrics. Then the album’s third cover version was a deft revision of the early 70s hit by Steam, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” As the Bananarama career swerved off into excessive cover versions over time, it’s good to remember that three of the five singles on this album were, in fact, covers. It was always in their DNA. Fortunately, this was another big winner with a tubular bell hook that played intriguingly against the drum machine.
Hands down, the most intriguing song on the album was “Hey Young London,” which not only sported sardonic lyrics taking the capitol city to task but the intro, with shouted male choral singing, thunderous percussion, and a killer synthesized jaw harp hook was like nothing else I’ve ever heard to this day! I could do for such stimulation on a regular basis. The sound was absolutely fearless.
The album ended on a more sedate note with the demure girl group lament “Boy Trouble” and “Wish You Were Here.” The latter of which had an intro which to this day tricks me into thinking I am hearing a lost deep cut from JAPAN’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids.” The Roland CR78 with fretless bass right in your face at the very least makes me think that producer Barry Blue was smitten with the same sound used the previous year on Gary Numan’s “Dance.” It’s almost a pity that the song quickly became a clone of “Cheers Then” which had closed out side one of the album on LP.
While the familiar Bananrama tropes of thin unison singing and a reliance on cover material were already in evidence, the ramshackle sprawling of the album, with its multiple production teams insured that whatever latent slickness the band had within them, was still a few years into the future for them. On this album, it was a pleasing blend of girl group sounds given a coat of the latest studio tech and in some cases, bypassed entirely. While I prefer the more organic sounds of “Really Saying Something” or “Aie A Mwana,” even the slickest material here [that would be from Swain + Jolley] had an intrinsic charm that felt at home with these ladies, who were far from being Sheena Easton prefab popstars. That they would make an African language dance pop number their first single and get a Sex Pistol to produce it says everything.
I really enjoyed this album period for the band. It was some quality pop with a few interesting ideas thrown into the mix along with some traditional ones as well. I would not mind getting the DLX RM of this title which has just about everything one could want from this album period on two CDs and a DVD. Maybe I can sell off my Bananrama vinyl collection and finance its purchase? I also liked their second album just fine. It wasn’t until their third album, and its monster hit “serpent in Eden” cover of Shocking Blue’s “Venus” that things began to go sour with Bananarama for me. At the time I still loved the PWL sound, but that single was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
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