REALLY SAYING NOTHING 


;It wasn't always this way: 45-year-old Sarah Dallin draped prostrate over a similarly lifeless 46-year-old Keren Woodward in a position that suggests either a MILF-ish post-party exhaustion or a pre-menopausal lesbian nightclub couch affair, either one presumably soundtracked by the deep, filtered house of mechanical pop hubris.

;;These are the long faces of Bananarama now as used to promote their 2005 release Drama, a deadpan foray into electro-relevance by way of some demonstrative titling ("Move in My Direction," "Look on the Floor") and breathy, choreographed, unison walk-throughs. Drama is largely exhausting, but it's hardly dramatic.

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;That said, it is quite brilliant. And after more than a quarter-century of wash-and-go pop, so is Bananarama. Why? Because they didn't mean to be.

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;Bananarama, believe it or not, owe their career to the Sex Pistols. In 1981, lifelong friends Dallin and Woodward made the acquaintance of one Paul Cook, he of the Sex Pistols, and were invited – along with new mate Siobhan Fahey – to make their residence above a studio where Cook and Steve Jones were rehearsing. At the time the girls were making their living working at bars in London, rubbing shoulders with the growing frocks, hairdos and piercings of London's teenage transition. Naturally, they seized on the opportunity to record their first demo, "Aie a Mwana," in the downstairs studio with Cook's production assistance. The result – three tinny voices squeezed together roughly around each note set to a faintly tribal rhythm with new wave guitar trappings and, er, horns to fill it out – landed them a record deal with Decca, which would later become London Records.

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;For perhaps no reason whatsoever, the song was both in Swahili and an underground hit, one that would land them in the pages of influential culture magazine The Face, which in turn would land on the lap of one Terry Hall, of the Specials and Fun Boy Three, who had just heard them on John Peel's radio show. Hall took the girls to the upper regions of the pop charts by including them on his Fun Boy Three single "Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That Cha Do It)," and appeared on the girls' own hit, "Really Saying Something." Producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley (who later worked with Spandau Ballet on True) solidified the girls' signature sound and gave shape to the first Bananarama full-length, Deep Sea Skiving. Not surprisingly, Paul Weller was involved. What?

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This is when the world would first come to know Bananarama: three video stars with ratty hair in ratty clothes, lovable misfits signifying a polite "fuck you" to the Thatcherisms of the moment and winning over youth culture by not hitting their notes and having a blast while doing it. This is also when they recorded a Honda commercial with Peter Fonda. Indeed.

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;Their self-titled 1984 release carried things even farther with the world karate (kid) chop of "Cruel Summer," which was followed swiftly by the rape (?) fun of "Robert DeNiro's Waiting." Carefree only lasts so long, so following their mild political turn, the girls even popped up in Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas."

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;And then came the devil. By 1985, the U.K. hit factory of Stock Aitken Waterman had taken "hi-NRG" hold, and having heard what the trio did for Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me," Bananarama were ready to take the leap from scrappy misanthropes to Top of the Pops. A string of shiny, screechy hits followed over the coming years: "Venus," "I Heard a Rumour," "Love in the First Degree," "I Can't Help It," each with videos containing scantily clad hunks in compromising positions. Was it a feminist statement or an appeal to the gay community? Or was it both?

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;Regardless, it was too much for Fahey, who dropped out in 1988 to marry Eurythmic Dave Stewart and join Marcella Detroit as the goth-ier half of Shakespear's Sister, resulting in the greatest band kiss-off single ever, "You're History."

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;In many ways, Bananarama were. Almost unrecognizable from their gritty origins in rock credibility, they trudged on – even hiring the faceless Jacquie O'Sullivan to spackle Fahey's hole – with Pop Life (SAW were out at this time; Youth, Shep Pettibone and Steve Jolley stepped in), but it was all for naught, relatively speaking. O'Sullivan left after the one album. Bananarama would continue as a duo.

;;Stock Aitken Waterman returned for 1993's Please Yourself – a triumph of substance-free trash that gloriously suits Lido-Deck shuffleboard tournaments on fictional Swedish cruise ships – and left again for the meager comeback attempt of 1995's Ultra Violet on an independent label (they were dropped by London). By 2001, only the French were allowed to suffer through Bananarama's cover of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper" from their best-forgotten Exotica effort. Their luck had clearly run out. All that would be left for them was a little bit of Drama.

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;Just this spring, though, Rhino remastered and reissued Bananarama's first six releases (with bonus tracks) in the U.K., thereby revitalizing their unique legacy of chance encounters and serviceable hits. Seen through the generous haze of hindsight, Bananarama exists somewhere back there as a nebulous entity of volume and opportunism, a sociological phenomenon more than a musical one. So when you see the middle-aged Dallin and Woodward lazily slumping through back-tracked renditions of "Venus" and "Cruel Summer" while four shirtless dancers do their best to distract from their palpable disinterest, do yourself a favor and don't listen for perfection. Just press your palms over your eyes and give them the benefit of the doubt.

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;They were never really saying anything at all. Just being everything they could.

; music@orlandoweekly.com

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