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June 6th, 2007

GIRLS STILL WANNA HAVE FUN!

by John J. Flanagan

banana.jpgTHE DIVAS OF 1981: BELINDA CARLISLE, KIM WILDE AND TWO OF THE THREE BANANARAMA’S ARE BACK, BUT DID THEY EVER REALLY GO AWAY?

Flashback, 1981. Reagan is sworn in as the 40th president of the United States. Iran releases 52 US hostages held since 1979. Reagan is shot. The Pope is shot. Sandra Day O’Connor is nominated to be the first woman on the US Supreme Court. Anwar el-Sadat is assassinated. And on August 1, 1981, MTV goes on the air, and the world is never again the same.

Back then MTV played music videos. Any rock/pop/R&B/rap artist who wanted to make it big had to go through them. It was MTV that introduced the world to Bananarama, Kim Wilde, and Belinda Carlisle. While all three are still pop stars today, they began their careers as indie musicians experimenting during the late 70’s. KimWilde and Banarama originated in the British new wave scene. While some of their later music was sugar coated for American ears, their early hits were classic synth-heavy new wave.

Belinda Carlisle grew up in the LA punk scene. She drummed for the GERMS before creating the legendary all girl band the GoGo’s with Jane Wiedlin. As front woman for the GoGo’s, Belinda became the face of one of the most successful female bands of all time.When the GoGo’s imploded, Carlisle went on to a moderately successful solo career. With new records released by all three of these post-punk, dance divas over the past several months, it’s time for Americans to become reacquainted with the girls of 1981.

Bananarama began as a trio with Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward, and Siobhan Fahey. Encouraged by former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, their first single was a cover, a Swahili song by Black Blood called “Aie Amwana” released in 1981. They went on to score 25 top 40 hits in the UK, and many in the US, including their only US #1 hit, Venus. In 1988 Siobhan Fahey decided to leave the group to form Shakespear’s Sister and after a brief trial with a replacement, Woodward and Dallin decided Bananarama should be a duo. In late 2005 they released Drama in the UK, their ninth studio album and first with all new material in almost 10 years. The album has been creating some buzz since its May 2006 US debut and is a must have for summer 2007.

Drama is as fresh and contemporary as any current pop album, but retains the classic Bananarama sound. All the songs were co-written by Dallin and Woodward and several were mixed by Jeremy Wheatley, who has worked with Kylie Minogue, Duran Duran, and Goldfrapp. Album opener “Move in My Direction” was a top ten dance hit, produced by Mute8 from the Murlyn group – the Swedish producing team that also includes Korpi and Blackcell, who produced 5 songs on Drama. The song is electro-pop bliss, as is sublime follow-up “Look on the Floor.” The album doesn’t leave the dance floor much – and neither will you. “Frequency,” “Rules of Attraction” and “I Love The Way” consist of pulsing beats with layers of hooks and melody. “Feel For You” is reminiscent of the band’s early new wave origins and “Don’t Step on My Groove” is Kylieesque Britpop perfection. The standout track on the album is “Middle of Nowhere.” Oddly, it’s the one song that leaves the dance floor for 3 minutes and 43 seconds of mid-tempo pop heaven. On this song the beats take a back seat to simple melody, sweet lyrics, and beautiful guitar. Drama closes with two remixes of Bananarama classics: “Venus” and “Really Saying Something.” The retrospective is a fitting conclusion and a nod to the group’s twenty-five year music history. This dance-pop album will appeal not only to anyone eagerly awaiting new Kylie music, but also the electro-pop aficionados who like their house music happy.

Kim Wilde was the British Madonna before Madonna started sleeping with DJs. Daughter of Brit rocker Marty Wilde, Kim exploded onto the music scene in 1981 with new wave eighties hit “Kids in America.”Worldwide she has had 14 #1 hits and 50 (!) top 5 hits.With over 10 million albums and 20 million singles sold, she is the most popular British female artist of our time.While never a huge star state-side, she did score a #1 song with “You Keep Me Hangin On” in 1986. After taking some time off to dabble in theater (she performed in Tommy on the West End), have a family, become a champion gardener (this is a VERY big deal in the UK), and author (on gardening of course), Kim Wilde is back with a brand new album called Never Say Never.

Never Say Never, Kim’s tenth studio album and first in ten years, is a combination of new songs and re-recordings of classic Kim Wilde songs. The album was produced by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Peterson, who made Nena the biggest female star in Germany. While the original versions of songs like “Kids in America” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” easily stand the test of time, it’s nice to hear them updated as duets with Charlotte Hatherley (formerly of Ash) and Nena (of red balloon fame) respectively. But the stand-outs are the new recordings. 25 years later and Kim Wilde can still belt out a tune sounding (and looking) sexy and sultry. Many of the new tracks are throwbacks to late eighties/early nineties pop: you can hear real drums, guitars, keyboards, and bass. Yet it’s all refreshingly contemporary. “Perfect Girl” kicks off the CD and is a slap in the face – it hits you hard and fast. “Together We Belong” and “I Fly” rock from start to finish. “Game Over” is reminiscent of Kim’s early 80’s hits and is a blast of new wave fun. “Baby Obey” and “Lost Without You” are the perfect showcases for Kim’s more mature and confident vocal delivery. The first single off the album was a re-recording of “You Came,” a brilliant pop song. It was a hit again all over Europe. Kim Wilde’s voice seduces like no other. This is the album you want playing in the middle of the afternoon while you are sitting by the pool barbecuing or flipping through the SoHo Journal.

Chemistry. The Go Go’s had it – literally and figuratively. If you watched VH1 circa Behind the Music, you know the story of Belinda Carlisle and the GoGo’s. Emerging out of LA’s punk scene, the GoGo’s (Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin, and Carlisle) released their first album in 1981. Hook-laden songs and catchy melodies vaulted them from LA scenesters to bonafide rock stars. The album hit #1, a first for an all female band who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. Like their male rock star counterparts, the band partied hard, did a lot of drugs, and had a lot of sex. They even had their own groupies (check out the Chuck Berry, Rob Lowe, Go Go’s video). After two more successful albums the grind and the drugs took their toll and the band broke up in 1985. Belinda cemented her star status with video and radio hits like her #1, “Heaven Is a Place On Earth,” “Mad About You,” “Summer Rain,” and “Circle in the Sand” (all of which you’ll hear today on Lite FM.) In the 90’s the Carslisle luster faded in the US, but blossomed in Europe. In 2001 every one said I’m sorry, egos were kept in check and the GoGo’s released a new album entitled God Bless the GoGo’s. Last summer the GoGo’s went on a sold out tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Beauty and the Beat. When not on tour with the GoGo’s, Belinda returns to Europe performing solo concerts and living in France. In February 2007, 10 years after her last solo release, Belinda shocked fans and critics alike by releasing a new album – sung entirely in French.

Voila is quite a departure for Belinda. According to Carlisle, “I had no interest in making another pop album. I knew if I was ever going to do another record, I wanted to do something challenging.” Since living in France and learning to speak the language, Carlisle became familiar with French music. Teaming up with producer John Reynolds, (U2, Sinead O’Connor, Indigo Girls, Hothouse Flowers) Carlisle has produced a beautiful piece of art. The album is a tribute to classic French songs of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s by Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf. Opener “Ma Jeunesse Fout Le Camp” (My Youth Is Slipping Away) sets the mood and includes haunting background vocals by world music star Natacha Atlas. “Avec Le Temps” (With the Times) is a smoky torch song that demonstrates the maturity Carlisle’s trademark vibratto has developed (from too much booze and cigarettes she says). “Sous Le Ciel De Paris” (Under Paris Skies) transports you to a playful street fair in Paris while “Jezebel” and “Contact” are campy fun. The best songs, however, are also the songs Carlisle chooses to sing in English on the limited edition bonus CD: The stylish “Bonnie et Clyde,” the disco inspired “La Vie En Rose” and especially “Pourtant Tu M’aimes” (I Still Love Him) which is the only song reminiscent of Carlisle’s previous pop hits. “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (If You Go Away) is a heart-wrenching ballad that Ms. Carlisle delivers with an emotional wallop. She has come a long way from her LA punk days. This is the album you want to play while sipping something glamorous at an outdoor cafe in SoHo on a sunny afternoon.

These new releases from Bananarama, Kim Wilde, and Belinda Carlisle make it feel like 1981 all over again.

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