Buy Here | Listen Below
Before they were known as Bananarama—one of the definitive girl group archetypes—Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward were just childhood friends with an unabashed love for music. This shared devotion to pop fueled their teenage dreams and as a result, they crossed paths with another hopeful like them, Siobhan Fahey.
Soon enough, fate did the rest and the seminal line-up of Bananarama manifested to secure the foundation of the group’s legacy from 1982 to 1987. Later, with the release of Please Yourself (1993)—Bananarama’s sixth studio recording—Dallin and Woodward proved that they could handle tumult of any kind, from changing consumer tastes to personnel shifts.
As a duo, this configuration of Bananarama cut four more albums of material from 1995 to 2009 as wildly eclectic as their antecedent material as a trio. In fact, it was the stylish dance-pop of Viva (2009) that left fans eagerly waiting for more.
But, in lieu of writing or recording any new material during the decade that followed Viva, Dallin and Woodward kept busy in other ways. From their involvement with various remastering campaigns for their canon to a formal, if temporary reunion with Fahey to embark on a critically acclaimed tour, Bananarama have remained as much in fashion as they’ve ever been.
Amid their touring activity in the last two years, Dallin and Woodward revealed that work on the successor to Viva was underway and as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. The release of In Stereo—Bananarama’s eleventh long player overall—is assuredly cause for celebration. It also raises the questions: what sonic space do the pair occupy in 2019 and how far removed is it from the one they resided in on their last song cycle? This query can be answered by perusing the liner notes for In Stereo where one will one will find two names: Ian Masterson (Kylie Minogue, Geri Horner née Halliwell, Sophie Ellis-Bextor) and Richard X (Goldfrapp, Róisín Murphy, Sugababes).
Masterson had history with Dallin and Woodward as a key drafting figure for Viva and its preceding affair Drama (2005). Richard X (born Richard Phillips) is the wild card on the LP. As both gentlemen are veteran producers associated with the British club pop sound, their involvement signals that In Stereo does not jettison the glossy, rhythmic synth-pop of Viva, but refines it with some affable throwback flourishes.
The flavorful opener “Love In Stereo” with its electronic vibe trimmed demurely in a vintage disco pattern—think A Taste of Honey—sets the tone for the mass of In Stereo. Throughout the album, entries such as “Dance Music,” “Intoxicated,” “Tonight” and the lead-off single “Stuff Like That” are luxurious dance-pop vehicles that divide themselves between classic and modern aestheticism in relation to the sequencing of their programming effects and how their arrangements are scaled. “Tonight” is of considerable merit with its soaring, Erasure-esque chorus and pirouetting synths. It’s an undeniable highlight of In Stereo.
For those listeners looking for the broader musical sensibilities separate from the dancefloor jams dotting In Stereo, Dallin and Woodward serve up three tracks to satisfy their palate: “Looking for Someone,” “Got to Get Away” and “On Your Own.” The first two songs are affable power-pop numbers that the pair comfortably execute, but it is “On Your Own” that stands eye-level with “Tonight” as another stand-out here. A mesmeric approximation of the Italo-Western ballad, Bananarama showcase the polished intimacy of their unison vocalizing and the power of their pen as lyricists.
Though songwriting collaborations for In Stereo ensued with Masterson and Rod Thomas (Bright Light Bright Light), it is Dallin and Woodward that lead on nine of the 10 compositions featured. The lone song to not bear the Bananarama stamp is the primarily Sugababes scripted “Love In Stereo.” That this song came from an English girl group walking on the road Bananarama helped to indelibly pave was likely not lost on Dallin and Woodward, just further confirmation of their enduring influence.
In Stereo succeeds as an album whose spirit springs from the joy of making music. As original rule breakers, Bananarama have nothing left to prove. That they can produce a record of such quality and care—just for the sake of it—is in and of itself a laudable, if not surprising feat.
Well done ladies.
Notable Tracks: "Love In Stereo" | “On Your Own” | "Stuff Like That" | “Tonight”