Wednesday, October 29, 2003

BANARAMAMA - True Confessions

Black Sabbath to the Spice Girls’ Nirvana, and TC was their Master of Reality. Even more déclassé than the Sabs, plus they were chicks. Which is why reading their 80s-vintage press is like diving into a misogynistic sewer, the stench of which is enough to gag a Taliban. TC is hiveminded as the big Swain/Joley>SAW switch, which in retrospect was necessary as the Banana Mk1 formula is squeezed to the limit here (“Swain & Jolley were much too meticulous about everything. They used to send us home for giggling. I think they really stifled us. They were such perfectionists and it took all the enjoyment out of recording” – Keren Woodward) – but the milkshake yield made it worth it.

For us, the consumers that is. That’s how chick work is. Keren again (on promotion) – “It’s really hard work, it’s boring and it’s physically tiring and it’s crap and even when you’re not doing anything you’re going through the mental stress of it all. It ruins your life.” Keren has just perfectly encapsulated the experience of attempting to exist in the world of post-industrial capitalism, now that jobs are ‘flexible’ (ie at the whims of capricious despots) and consist almost completely of indentured emotional servitude while being incarcerated. You probably don’t agree, and think I am being ‘negative’. That’s because you are a student. The fact that you read or write for the pop press (or, these days in England, make pop records) proves it. Congratulations, you are in the club. Don’t worry about nothin’, you’ll do fine. Please refrain from complaining about society though. After all, you run it, and the underlings are justifiably not going to trust you enough to tell the truth, so claiming to know ‘anything’ is a bit rich (like yourselves), don’t you think?

The titlular opener’s Sabs-esque doom certainly indicates the oppressive atmosphere noted above. Thudding stoner-disco in the “Children of the Grave”/”I’m So Stupid” mode, slower and denser than Kyuss’ “Thumb”. “Ready or Not” picks up the tempo but lyrically leaves banana skins all over the place for the unwary to slip on and fall into the abyss. Images of separation, incarceration, alienation. “It’s getting harder now/ living my life taking orders”. There was a lot of this kind of thing in MOR/‘adult rock’ in the 80s for some reason, the best of which emanated from the Collins/Genesis garrison – Mike + Mechanics’ Unabomber ode “Silent Running”, Genesis’ “Home by the Sea”, Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home”. Then again the lyrics quoted work equally well as a teeth-clenching preparation for a descent into a lifetime in the service economy. “Let me tell you something/ you’d better start running”… The Genesis comparisons are deep in the texture of the next track and first standout classic on the record, “Trick of the Night”, extended chords and foreboding synth-patch whooshes, autumnal minor-chord verse transition to major-dominant anthem chorus the way Sting tries to do all the time and succeeds at occasionally. Sort of a cross between Steely Dan’s “Any World” and Genesis’ “Turn it On Again”, except slowed WAY down, so the words “anywhere you go/you’ve taken the wrong way” (or is it “YOU’RE taken the wrong way”? [cf. Steely Dan “Barrytown”, except moving opposite classwise] Why is it impossible to find lyrics for any good records on the Interweb, except for the metal ones?) glow with the unique kind of compassion that makes romanticising the declasse female irrestistable. Like, barmaids and that, they’re so down-to-earth and understanding, y’know? “Real” women! They’re not after your wallet and status, they just see the pain in your tortured eyes and want to mother you. Yes, I am a sad git. So was Bill fucking Clinton, what IS your point? Admit it, sometimes we just get tired of ice bitches (as exotic and cool as they admittedly are) and their ambitious ways and just want tea and sympathy… …sorry, forgot you’re students. I’ll try not to offend you anymore.

(Although ice-bitches make an appearance lyrically in “Cut Above the Rest”, which actually goes “She’s NOT a cut above the rest/ she’s NOT a cut above the rest”, telling us what they know. Actually, only some of what they know. They correctly sussed that the Swain/Jolley project had run its course, and as thrilling as the pop/AOR-merger possibilities were, it was a fine line and the dangers of falling over it are all too evident on the lull at the end of Side One, “Dance With a Stranger” and “In a Perfect World”, every bit like the titles discouragingly promise – fretless bass, vibraphones, those Steely Sade chords smothering everything instead of tantalizing those hard-to-reach earogenous zones [BOO! Sorry. Look, I thought Johny Guitar Watson’s Eargasm was the funniest title ever, and still do!] So, onto the SAW stuff already…)

“Venus” you know, right? A cover of a song from Calvinist Holland where the video equates the love goddess with Satan! I’m planning on moving to Amsterdam as soon as possible (for other reasons. I like canals a lot, and museums), are Dutch Venuses (Venii?) as easy as everyone says they are? Then again English girls are supposedly notorious slags too but I don’t have any luck here either. Maybe I should stop trying to impress them with stuff I’ve written, like for example this.

“More Than Physical” is simply the best Prince cop ever and in the complexity and delicacy of its painstaking palimpsestic percussive patterns (plus panned portmanteaus) is probably preferable to proximal>post Purple product. And the singing! Alternating suspended-fourth/second harmony hawtness with their trademark unison bleats is the second-greatest proof of Pete Waterman’s genius. (The first was him on ‘Pop Idol’ demonstrating the difference between ‘singing’ and ‘reciting’ to that st…idiot who kept whining about “I have a music degree! From university! I AM A SINGER!”)

Sorry, I offended you again didn’t I?

(Actually I don’t give a shit, stick that piece of paper up your ass. Then again, what do you care what I think? You’re not exactly going to go from your civil-service job to your country house and sulk about what a bunch of no-hoper proles think, are you? Go on rigging society to your own benefit, don’t mind me. Last word to Keren [what a name!] – “The one we wrote was “Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares”. It was instrumental, and quite political”.)

(originally appeared at www.stylusmagazine.com)

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