The albums of Bananarama have spanned from post-punk to shiny pop…
Deep Sea Skiving, 1983
As introductions go, few made an impression as indelible as Bananarama’s March 1983 debut album, Deep Sea Skiving. Falling somewhere between The Slits and The Supremes, these ramshackle Ronettes blended the notion of the classic girl groups of the 60s and the DIY ethos of the punk scene that spawned them to carve out a niche entirely of their own.
Having started the group a few years previously, childhood friends Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, along with Siobhan Fahey, had navigated the London club scene, developed a knack for social networking and landed gigs with former Sex Pistols and Professionals drummer Paul Cook – he co-produced their debut single, a cover of Black Blood’s Aie A Mwana – and The Specials’ Terry Hall (he invited them to sing on his next single with Fun Boy Three, It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It).
They went on to win John Peel’s seal of approval, graced the pages of The Face and performed with Fun Boy Three on Top Of The Pops, before landing a deal with London Records and heading into the studio to begin work on their debut LP with producer Barry Blue.
Huge fans of Imagination’s Body Talk, the girls also tracked down its producers, Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, who helped them score two more Top 5 hits with the glorious Shy Boy, a new wave twist on the girl group sound complete with shoop-shoop background vocals, and a cover of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
Elsewhere, they reunited with Fun Boy Three for a cover of The Velvettes’ on Really Saying Something, What A Shambles is a biting commentary on scoring chart hits while still signing on the dole and having to go to the laundrette, Hey Young London lambasts the pretentious preening peacocks of the Blitz club and Cheers Then is a heart-warming ode to friendship.
A pair of tracks later made it big for other artists – the Paul Weller-penned Doctor Love (which was a hit for Tracie in 1984) and Young At Heart – written by the girls with The Bluebells’ Robert Hodgens, who scored with it with his band a year later, though their country-fied take was vastly different to the Bananarama version.
Reaching No.7 in the UK – Bananarama’s highest-charting studio album, Deep Sea Skiving is packed with attitude, killer hooks and a charming amateurish quality that makes for an inviting debut.
Although they had notched up four Top 5 singles by the time they began work on their second album, Sara, Keren and Siobhan still felt they had to prove themselves as songwriters given that those hits comprised three covers and a Swain & Jolley composition while the self-penned Cheers Then had missed the Top 40, disappointing them greatly.
Despite their chart record, the girls also felt they weren’t held in the same regard as their male peers, who had achieved similar, or in some cases, less success than they had. It was decided they would write the entire second album with Swain & Jolley (only one cover, their take on the obscure Six Sed Red’s Dream Baby, made the record).
Aware that they were perceived as fluffy and throwaway – though much of this was admittedly down to their own charmingly shambolic attempts at choreography and a habit of giggling through interviews – the girls set about changing the public’s perception on their second LP by writing about social issues.
Fusing infectious pop melodies with lyrics tackling subjects such as street gangs (King Of The Jungle), drug addiction (Hot Line To Heaven) and poverty (Rough Justice) gives Bananarama a darker edge than its predecessor but the poor chart performances of Rough Justice and Hot Line To Heaven as singles provoked questions as to what the public wanted from the group. Tracks such as State I’m In, which again harks back to classic 60s girl groups, may have fared better.
The exception was Robert De Niro’s Waiting, a song written about PTSD and idolising a celebrity to mask personal trauma, which possessed an undeniable hook. That infectious melody plus the novelty of featuring an actor’s name in the title provided the girls’ biggest UK success to date, reaching No.3 in the UK.
The tropical-sounding melancholia of Cruel Summer, now recognised as a classic, was the album’s other big hit and gave them international success, reaching the Top 10 in the United States, thanks mainly to its use in The Karate Kid movie. The US edition of the album also included The Wild Life, recorded shortly after Bananarama’s release for a film soundtrack and one of their finest songs.
True Confessions, 1986
The band’s third album reflects a transitional time in their history, serving as a bridge between their early rough and ready sound and the polished pop of their union with Stock Aitken Waterman. Though its biggest hit, Venus, doesn’t really represent the remainder of the LP, True Confessions is nevertheless a strong album packed with well-crafted pop.
The fantastic title track bounces with energy and is armed with a killer chorus, Ready Or Not is painted from the same sonic palette as Alison Moyet’s Love Resurrection and the moody In A Perfect World melds trademark tribal beats with gorgeous melodies.
Often subject to unwarranted criticism about their vocals, Bananarama always had a unique sound and the choice to largely sing in unison worked to their advantage. True Confessions boasts layered harmonies, particularly on highlight A Trick Of The Night.
The two Stock Aitken Waterman tracks, Venus and More Than Physical, represent the girls’ shift into Hi-NRG pop, though the latter’s album version pales in comparison to the remix it received for its release as a single. It was a decision justified by Venus’ success, which included topping the charts in various countries, including the US.
Following the international success of Venus in 1986, enlisting Stock Aitken Waterman to produce their next record in its entirety seemed like a no-brainer. Once in the studio, however, a tug-of-war ensued when the girls, used to having a hands-on approach with their music, found themselves battling to have their ideas entertained by the producers who were used to dispensing ready-made hits to eager pop stars such as Sinitta and Samantha Fox.
However, though Bananarama and SAW have since spoken openly about how fraught with tension the Wow! sessions were, there’s no evidence of that whatsoever on what turned out to be pretty much the perfect pop album.
Joyous, exhilarating and immaculately produced, the impossibly high standard barely dips, from the slinky, Chic-inspired I Can’t Help It, the bombastic exuberance of I Heard A Rumour to the impossibly catchy I Want You Back and Love In The First Degree. Some Girls and Bad For Me both boast a US club sound as does the mid-tempo Come Back. Once In A Lifetime continues their thread of underrated ballads, Strike It Rich is a feisty take on materialism and a cover of The Supremes’ Nathan Jones falls slightly flat but was later redeemed with a remix for its release as a single.
Wow! was Bananarama’s most consistent album in terms of chart success, spawning a string of classic hits and, despite its disappointing peak of No.26 on home soil, remained in the charts for six months and landed the girls in the Guinness Book Of World Records for having the most UK chart entries for an all-female act.
An all-killer, no-filler snapshot of the trio at their pinnacle, Wow! is also one of the strongest collections SAW ever put their names to.
Not everyone was as enamoured by Bananarama’s frothy and fun makeover, though. It was at odds with what Siobhan, who had recently married Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and relocated to Los Angeles, wanted to do musically at the time and was the catalyst for her departure from the group in 1988 to form Shakespears Sister. The end of an era.
Pop Life, 1991
New decade. New line-up. New sound. Bananarama’s first studio album in four years emerged following arguably the most turbulent and triumphant period of the girls’ career to date. After Siobhan’s departure in 1988, Sara and Keren were keen to continue as a duo but were dissuaded by their record company who believed Bananarama was entrenched in the public’s consciousness as a trio and wouldn’t be accepted in any other formation.
The girls relented on the condition that Siobhan’s replacement be someone they already knew – enter Jacquie O’Sullivan, fellow club kid and former singer with punk/rockabilly group the Shillelagh Sisters.
With Bananarama in the midst of their most successful and consistent period to date, O’Sullivan was thrown in at the deep end, re-recording vocals for two remaining Wow! singles as well as new song Love, Truth & Honesty, promoting a new Greatest Hits collection, embarking on a world tour and recording the 1989 Comic Relief single.
The group began working on their fifth album in the spring of 1990. After a few frustrating false starts with SAW, marred by creative differences and the production trio being too busy with their roster of other artists to collaborate, Bananarama sought other collaborators, including former Prince cohort David Z, Steve Jolley and Youth, the latter someone all three girls had known since his Killing Joke days and from the London club scene.
Now a renowned producer, Youth’s initial meeting with the girls sparked a flurry of creativity that informed the direction for the album. The result is an eclectic, experimental collection with a diverse range of influences, a seismic shift from the pure pop they’d perfected on the Wow! LP.
Highlights include the Bhangra-influenced Tripping On Your Love, flamenco-flavoured Long Train Running, the Madchester-tinged Only Your Love that featured a vocal hook borrowed from The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, and the bluesy funk of Megalomaniac. A sole SAW track, Ain’t No Cure, exemplifies the girls’ frustration at sounding too much like the trio’s other artists by seemingly borrowing the backing track of Lonnie Gordon’s Happenin’ All Over Again.
Please Yourself, 1993
Following the under-performance of Pop Life and Tripping On Your Love being the group’s first single to miss the Top 75 since Aie A Mwana in 1981, not to mention the departure of Jacquie O’Sullivan shortly after, Bananarama had not only lost a member but also seemingly, their confidence. Now confirmed as a duo, Sara and Keren were majorly disappointed that the experimental Pop Life hadn’t been the success they’d hoped for.
With Stock Aitken Waterman seemingly past their creative and commercial peak, they also found themselves a member down following the departure of Matt Aitken. In September 1991, remainers Stock and Waterman went into the studio to write with Sara and Keren on the first Bananarama duo album.
While initial sessions leaned towards a classic disco sound, Pete Waterman’s concept for “ABBA Banana”, complete with melancholic vocals and piano arpeggios, pushed the album in a new direction.
Released in March 1993, Please Yourself was a crushing disappointment and felt like a major regression after the dynamism of the exploratory Pop Life. Leading with the ABBA-inspired material was a mistake with both first single Movin’ On and follow-up Last Thing On My Mind sounding dated and even an anodyne cover of Andrea True Connection’s More, More, More seemed better suited to a daytime TV fashion segment than the dancefloor.
Surprisingly, Please Yourself sounds far better today than it did at the time of its release. Standout Give It All Up For Love evokes classic disco with its strings and hushed vocals, the catchy Is She Good To You? is everything you’d expect from a SAW/disco fusion and the euphoric You’ll Never Know What It Means was at least of its time, sonically similar to what Take That were doing on their debut album.
Please Yourself entered the chart at No.46 before suffering the same fate as Pop Life and disappearing shortly afterwards. It also marked the end of an era, being Bananarama’s final release on London Records.
Ultra Violet, 1995
Having parted ways with their long-term label London Records, and with Britpop ruling the UK music scene, Bananarama shifted their focus to the territories where they were still enjoying success, Europe and Japan, hence them being missing in action for the remainder of the 90s as far as their homeland was concerned.
Their seventh studio album, Ultra Violet, saw the duo working independently, licensing the record to various labels depending on specific countries – it was first released in Japan as I Found Love in 1995.
This obviously saw them working with a lower budget than previously and the production suffers – at times sounding cheap and generic. Musically, the album stays faithful to the then-popular Eurodance sound, with tracks recalling everyone from Snap! and Corona to Gina G.
Although Ultra Violet contains some of their weakest work to date and is often so one-dimensional that tracks tend to blend into each another, Take Me To Your Heart plods along pleasantly while Rhythm Of Life and Don’t Stop Me Now have strong enough melodies to make them stand out from the rest. The album’s saving grace is Every Shade Of Blue. A moody dance track with an impossibly catchy chorus, it shows that the girls still had ideas, but frustratingly lacked the budget to bring them successfully to fruition.
With Bananarama functioning almost exclusively as a live act in the late 90s and early 2000s, trotting out the hits at European festivals, club appearances and Pride events, the girls found they were missing the creative process of recording new music.
However, as they were once again without a record deal and with their profile at an all-time low, Sara and Keren’s prospects looked bleak, particularly given that the pop scene was then ruled by the Britneys, Billies and Backstreets of this world. Frankly, anyone beyond their teens barely stood a chance.
With their options limited, the girls headed to Paris having been introduced to French producer Pascal Caubet who’d expressed an interest in working with the duo. Unsure what would result of the sessions, Sara and Keren were nonetheless happy to be writing and recording new material again.
Dubbed their “French Project”, the tracks resulted in Exotica, an album exclusive to France as a one-off release on the M6 Interactions label.
The result is by far the weakest of their discography. A record of two halves, Exotica comprises a handful of new tracks, a batch of freshly butchered versions of four of their classic hits and an ill-advised cover of George Michael’s Careless Whisper.
Opener If, a sultry electro stomper, is the strongest track, along with What You Gonna Do, a brooding All Saints-esque mid-tempo – perhaps the only two songs worth salvaging from this career lowpoint. Crazy and Sleep are forgettable while the catchy Starz feels like the worst that Eurovision has to offer and the cheap sounding Boom reaches new levels of generic.
What drags the album down even further are the mutilations of four of their iconic hits – remixes of Cruel Summer, I Heard A Rumour, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and Venus are stripped of everything that made them so special in their original form.
Though promos of If and Careless Whisper were distributed prior to the release of the album, neither were put out officially as singles.
A low-key, best-forgotten record which lacks the girls’ usually abundant personality, Exotica is the sound of a duo that was struggling and making the most of very limited options.
Another album, another new home, this time on Italian label A&G Records. Though essentially still an independent act, the quality control on Drama is streets ahead of anything the girls had released since Pop Life.
Well written and slickly produced with a team that included Ian Masterson and Swedish hitmakers Murlyn, it was their strongest set for some time and the first Bananarama LP to be released in the UK in 12 years.
Sounding current and revitalised, the record largely stays faithful to dance-inspired pop with a smattering of synth-pop; the Kylie-esque first single Move In My Direction, cheeky Lovebite, sexy Feel For You and frenetic Your Love Is Like A Drug all standouts. However, it is Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango), a shimmering electro track with vocodered verses and a chorus borrowed from My Mine’s Italo Disco classic Hypnotic Tango that’s the real highlight.
Unfortunately, changing release dates and distribution problems blighted Drama’s campaign and it stalled at No.169 in the UK chart.
Originally envisioned as an album of disco covers, Bananarama’s 10th studio LP evolved into a different entity altogether when the girls, along with writer and producer Ian Masterson, began penning original material during the recording sessions.
Now on the same label as Girls Aloud and The Saturdays, Bananarama released Viva in September 2009, a polished, contemporary-sounding album that could sit alongside the groups they paved the way for.
Combining the pop sensibilities of their labelmates and the harder, electro vibe of acts such as Dragonette, Viva is the sound of a rejuvenated Bananarama – a contemporary nod to their legacy.
Singles Love Comes and Love Don’t Live Here, particularly the latter with its dramatic strings, are worthy additions to the girls’ canon of hits, while Seventeen, Tell Me Tomorrow and Dum Dum Boy maintain the high standard.
Their cover of Fox’s S-S-S-Single Bed, with its overuse of vocoder, is the only weak spot on what is an otherwise fantastic return to form.
In Stereo, 2019
The fact that every new Bananarama album since 1993 has been on a different record label to their last, proves how hard Sara and Keren have worked to keep going. Riding a wave of goodwill generated by a successful reunion tour with Siobhan in 2017, their 11th studio album arrived a decade after its predecessor in the spring of 2019.
While their 80s peers were releasing new studio albums and being bestowed with Lifetime Achievement Awards, the pair’s apparent inactivity and systemic sexism in the music industry meant that Sara and Keren’s contributions and influence were denied the same acknowledgement as their male counterparts.
In Stereo saw a reinvigorated duo deliver a strong collection of tracks and finds them refreshingly draw from influences outside of electro and dance-pop such as classic disco and new wave, not to mention their own glittering legacy.
Once again teaming up with long-time collaborator Ian Masterson, In Stereo is packed with highlights including the Goldfrapp-like Dance Music, the exhilarating Looking For Someone, the Kylie-esque It’s Gonna Be Alright, uplifting Intoxicated and the ethereal electro of Tonight, while closer On Your Own is a glorious throwback to their early days.
Now, about those Outstanding Contribution To Music awards…
Janet Jackson albums – the complete guide
After first finding fame as part of the Jackson family dynasty, Janet Jackson asserted her independence to become one of the most successful and influential solo artists in pop…
US No.63 UK –
Despite being just 16 years old when she released her self-titled debut album in 1982, Janet Jackson already had close to a decade of performance experience under her belt thanks to regular appearances at her brothers’ Las Vegas revue and acting roles on US TV shows such as Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes.
She initially had no desire to enter the family firm, planning instead to go to college to study business law. However, those aspirations were swiftly vetoed by her strict disciplinarian father/manager Joe, who, having masterminded her brothers’ ascent to pop’s most successful dynasty, secured her a contract with A&M Records.
Trepidatious about how she wanted to present herself, Janet expressed a desire to be regarded as her own entity and was rather reluctant to have her surname on the record. Joe and A&M overruled her, however, seeing the Jackson name as a selling point and assembled a team of the R&B scene’s most promising talent to build the album around her.
Side One of the LP was written and produced by René Moore and Angela Winbush, a couple who’d written, produced, arranged and played on their own hits as well as those songs crafted specifically for Janet. Meanwhile, Side Two was helmed largely by Foster Sylvers from LA-based R&B family group The Sylvers with producer Bobby Watson completing the team.
With success and experience between them, Janet’s only required input was to turn up and sing, a commitment that she slotted in between her studies and acting work.
Janet’s minimal contribution to the record proves to be its greatest weakness. It lacks personality, sticking largely to the identikit pop and R&B of the time with her vocals elevating much of the unremarkable material.
Standouts are the funky opener Say You Do, a track that owes a large debt to Michael’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, the infectious, string-laden You’ll Never Find (A Love Like Mine) which harks back to Philly soul, and Come Give Your Love To Me, which refreshingly incorporates guitars and new wave synths into the mix.
Released in September 1982, Janet Jackson peaked at a disappointing No.63 in the US and failed to produce a hit single. Despite Janet’s attempts to push the album by performing on shows such as American Bandstand and Soul Train, it was eclipsed by the release of the behemoth that was Michael’s Thriller two months later.
US No.147 UK –
Not too dissimilar from the framework of her debut, Dream Street’s bid for crossover appeal, which trades the R&B foundations of its predecessor for a broader pop sound, comes across as contrived.
Boasting a mixed bag of collaborators including Janet’s brother Marlon, Giorgio Moroder and even Cliff Richard (yes, really), Dream
Street suffers from a lack of direction.
As was the case with her debut, Janet’s role began and ended with contributing vocals, with her recording sessions scheduled around her role in the Fame TV series.
Highlights are scarce though the Moroder-produced title track and the Marlon Jackson-navigated Don’t Stand Another Chance at least hint at the potential of what was to come.
Fast Girls desperately wants to sound like Prince protégés Vanity 6 (it fails), while Pretty Boy, although equally unremarkable, is significant in the big picture as it is written and produced by The Time’s Jesse Johnson.
Faring significantly worse than Janet’s debut, Dream Street’s failure marked a significant turning point in that it prompted the realisation that if Janet was to pursue music seriously, it would have to be on her own terms and she would have to make some significant changes – however difficult that would be.
US No.1 UK No.8
As statements of independence go, few are as direct as the title track of Control. Although her third album, it serves as the world’s real introduction to Janet, given it truly was the record on which she found her voice.
After two unsuccessful albums which bore just her name and vocals, Janet took hold of the reins of her career by firing her father as manager. She then sought the guidance of A&M’s John McClain, who teamed her with former Prince cohorts Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
The failure of her previous album, Dream Street, had coincided with a turbulent time in Janet’s personal life, during which she had eloped with James DeBarge – singer with rival family group DeBarge – only to discover his voracious drug habit. Realising her mistake, she swiftly annulled the marriage and returned to the sheltered security of the Jackson estate.
Unfulfilled in life and in her career, Janet reluctantly agreed to a temporary make-or-break move to Minneapolis to record her next album after Jam & Lewis refused to work in California.
Holed up in the production duo’s Flyte Tyme Studios, Janet, Jimmy and Terry quickly established a bond which transformed the trajectories of their careers, cultivating a unique sound which comprised rap, R&B, funk and pop (later termed New Jack Swing) and utilised cutting-edge technology to create an innovative art of noise. Teaming their ground-breaking sonics with Janet’s declarations of independence, control and respect, Control was undeniably a landmark record.
Now 36 years later, it manages to sound gloriously retro and futuristic concurrently. The crunching beats and percussive tics of Nasty berate the guys that had tried to intimidate her in Minneapolis, while the irresistibly funky What Have You Done For Me Lately updates Aretha’s demand for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
When I Think Of You, with its euphoric stabs of brass capturing the giddy heights of love, the chaotic euphoria of The Pleasure Principle and tender ballad Let’s Wait Awhile maintain a standard so high that seven of the album’s nine tracks justifiably went on to become hit singles.
Self-assured, sassy and streetwise, Control sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
Read our feature on the making of Control here.
Rhythm Nation 1814
US No.1 UK No.4
As is always the case when something becomes popular, pressure mounts to replicate that success and with Control’s impressive stats, A&M had a strong case for wanting Janet to continue in the same milieu for its follow-up.
However, feeling she had covered those themes, Janet eschewed their instructions for a carbon copy sequel and instead chose to tackle more expansive issues.
Inspired by channel surfing during studio downtime and feeling deflated by the constant stream of negativity in the news (sound familiar?), Janet, Jimmy and Terry came up with the concept of a modern-day take on the social commentary of Marvin Gaye’s soul classic What’s Going On.
Prompting unification through music, Janet created a movement with a manifesto to highlight the world’s ills – including racism, poverty, illiteracy and prejudice. The album was conceived as an immersive experience rather than a straightforward collection of tracks, beginning with a pledge and featuring between-song interludes to weave the material together.
Opening with a suite of songs that brought a strong socially conscious message – the Sly & The Family Stone-sampling title track, the slick swingbeat of State Of The World and sparse, industrial feel of The Knowledge, the mood of the album switches up with an interlude asking, “Get the point? Good, let’s dance!”, before giving way to a string of punchy dance tracks – all of which added to Janet’s impressive tally of US Top 5 hits, Miss You Much, Escapade and Alright, yearning ballad Come Back To Me, and the hard rock of Black Cat.
Although Rhythm Nation is deeply entrenched in its harsh black and white imagery and the iconic video for the title track, featuring Janet and her troupe of dancers delivering ground-breaking choreography in black military-inspired jumpsuits and baseball caps, as a body of work, the album’s severity is countered by many lighter moments. The highlight of which is the sparkling sensuality of Love Will Never Do (Without You), a seductive delight that served as the perfect teaser for where Janet headed next.
US No.1 UK No.1
A lot had changed in the four years since Janet’s previous studio album. She had signed a deal with Virgin worth an estimated $40 million, making her the highest paid artist in the world, scored one of her biggest hits with The Best Things In Life Are Free with Luther Vandross, and shot her debut film, gritty romantic drama Poetic Justice.
Unbeknownst to the world at the time, she had also married her boyfriend, René Elizondo Jr. The combination of the latter two ignited the confidence and sexual liberty that informs 1993’s janet.
The laidback groove of That’s The Way Love Goes, which effortlessly eased Janet back into the spotlight after a lengthy break, was the perfect reintroduction, topping the US chart for eight weeks.
Elsewhere, the album draws from a diverse range of influences with alt-rock (What’ll I Do) nestling comfortably next to operatic melodrama (This Time). You Want This and Because Of Love are both hip-hop-flavoured dance tracks, Throb is a pulsating house anthem and ballads Where Are You Now and Again are beautiful in their simplicity – the latter of which earned Janet an Oscar nomination due to its inclusion in Poetic Justice.
Rhythm Nation’s social commentary is revisited briefly on New Agenda, which includes a rap from Public Enemy’s Chuck D, while the sensual The Body That Loves You and Any Time, Any Place are tailor-made for Janet’s fans who had confessed to playing her music while having sex, leading her to dub them her “baby-making songs”. Hidden track, Whoops Now, a Motown-flavoured breezy effort was one the album’s biggest hits in the UK, while the high-octane sexplicit masterpiece If provides the album’s highlight.
Janet’s newfound confidence and sexual liberation were reflected in the album’s artwork, particularly the cover, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. Deemed too risqué by the record label, who cropped the image to focus solely on her face, the full-length version, featuring a topless Jackson gazing confidently while a pair of male hands (later revealed to be her husband René’s) cup her bare breasts, became one of the most iconic pop images of the decade.
The Velvet Rope
US No.1 UK No.6
Having completed a hugely successful tour, renegotiated her record contract to $80 million, establishing her again as the highest paid artist in music history (at the time), and released her first greatest hits compilation, Design Of A Decade, Janet should have been feeling on top of the world.
In fact, she’d hit rock bottom, suffering what she later realised was an emotional breakdown.
Backstage on the tour, the singer was unable to emerge from deep sadness and depression. Despite her status as one of the world’s leading sex symbols, she was plagued by body dysmorphia.
Rather than enjoying her wealth and success, she constantly felt worthless and inadequate, prompting psychotherapy that delved as far back as childhood to come to terms with her feelings. Understanding that other people must be sharing her insecurities, Janet poured her findings into her most personal LP.
Encompassing hip-hop, R&B, jazz, trip-hop, dance and electro, The Velvet Rope covers a myriad of subjects from the scathing self-analysis of You, the self-affirming Special and vitriolic What About, which tackles the horrors of domestic violence while Empty predicts the hollowness of social media. Go Deep, despite the title, has nothing to do with therapy, and is the album’s most feelgood moment along with Together Again, an uplifting homage to Janet’s friends lost to AIDS.
Sexuality is also a central theme of much of the record, be it subtle (a cover of Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s The Night maintains the gender of the original and is sung to a woman), blatant (Rope Burn which is an ode to sado-masochism) or righteous (Free Xone denounces homophobia). Other high points include the sleek Joni Mitchell-sampling Got ‘Til It’s Gone, the synth-infused swingbeat of the title track and sublime R&B balladry of I Get Lonely.
Although it didn’t sell as well as its predecessors – though eight million copies is an impressive result – The Velvet Rope is in many respects Janet’s masterpiece and its influence on sub-genres including neo-soul and alt-R&B is undeniable.
All For You
US No.1 UK No.2
Having offloaded some emotional baggage on The Velvet Rope and divorced her secret husband of nine years, René, the new millennium saw Janet in a positive frame of mind. She was excited to be single and dating for the first time, something she wanted to reflect in the fun, carefree stylings of 2001’s All For You.
This forward-looking optimism informs a suite of feelgood songs which are the beating heart of the album, including the title track, America-sampling Someone To Call My Lover, house-inflected Come On Get Up and Doesn’t Really Matter.
Things take a darker turn and deceit and betrayal are explored on the synthesised swagger of You Ain’t Right, the vitriolic Son Of A Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You), the sublime rocky, hip-hopera Trust A Try, before the mellow drum’n’bass of Better Days concludes the album on an optimistic note.
While All For You is a solid collection, it’s let down by the inclusion of too many bland boudoir ballads and the between-song interludes that enhanced previous records are now rather detrimental to the overal effect.
Nevertheless, despite competition from a generation of artists who followed in her footsteps, Ms Jackson reigned supreme scoring her highest first-week sales and fifth consecutive US No.1 studio album.
US No.2 UK No.32
In a parallel universe, Janet’s 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show went according to plan: the wardrobe malfunction didn’t happen and her performance proved to be the meticulously choreographed launch for Damita Jo that it was always meant to be, and the singer’s eighth album went on to achieve the success it deserved.
Of course, we all know that’s not what happened. The ridiculous overreaction to a flash of nipple saw Janet blacklisted by America’s major media organisations, thus derailing her career.
The fact that Justin Timberlake was held totally unaccountable for his part and saw his career flourish, highlighted America’s inherent sexism and racism with Janet solely suffering a backlash which has only dissipated in the last few years.
Released eight weeks after the Super Bowl debacle and unfairly eclipsed upon release, Damita Jo, when judged entirely on merit, is a diverse collection of songs, some of which rank among Janet’s best.
The horn-filled hip-hop of the title track and Strawberry Bounce explain Janet’s adoption of different personas in order to feel more liberated (a concept later explored by Beyoncé with her I Am… Sasha Fierce album).
The acoustic-flavoured hip-hop of My Baby (featuring relative newcomer Kanye West) is charming, as is Thinking ‘Bout My Ex which contains all the hallmarks of Babyface’s classic R&B. Meanwhile, the lilting ballad Spending Time With You seguing into the Cathy Dennis co-write Island Life transports you to tropical climes.
Elsewhere, All Nite (Don’t Stop), with its irresistible hook, is a scorching companion to Throb from 1993’s janet., R&B Junkie is a fun throwback to the 80s, while I Want You takes us back even further with its lush production that pastiches classic 60s soul. Just A Little While, a new wave-flavoured song with a nod to Prince makes a cute album track but remains a baffling choice for Damita Jo’s lead single.
Washed away in a tsunami of controversy, Damita Jo marked the beginning of a decline in sales for Janet and was her first studio album since Dream Street to miss the top spot in the US albums chart. Underrated and unfairly maligned, it is nevertheless a worthy addition to her canon which houses more than a few hidden gems.
US No.2 UK No.63
The danger of using a landmark album from your back catalogue to hype up the release of your new record is that as well as creating a buzz, you also risk the danger of sparking expectations that are almost impossible to live up to.
Therein lies the main problem with 20 Y.O. Titled as a reference to the two-decade time-lapse since the release of Control, the record was teased as a sequel of sorts to Janet’s classic LP, and on that premise, 20 Y.O. (20 Years Old) falls way short, mainly due to a disparity of the styles on offer.
Hip-hop beats, 80s synths and an abundance of samples permeate much of the first half of the LP with Do It 2 Me and the Herbie Hancock-sampling So Excited (the album’s second single) proving the strongest.
However, the quality control takes a substantial leap towards the end when Janet reunites with Jam & Lewis for standouts Daybreak (which recaptures the breezy joy of Escapade) and the laidback groove of Enjoy, while the sensual Take Care and Love 2 Love are her “baby-making songs” done right.
Unfortunately, a duet with Nelly, Call On Me, a weak retread of the rapper’s Kelly Rowland collab Dilemma, was released as the album’s lead single. That decision, along with the continued fallout from the Super Bowl, saw the LP underperform, spelling the end of her 13-year tenure at Virgin.
US No.1 UK No.63
Having signed to Island Records, Janet chose to revamp her sound, embarking on a project without Jam & Lewis for the first time since 1984’s Dream Street. Without a single writing credit on the album from Janet, Discipline was also the least involved she had been on any of her later records.
As is the case with her first two albums, Janet’s lack of involvement results in a collection that falls short on personality and could be anyone thanks to its manipulated vocals on many of the tracks.
Her weakest collection since her breakthrough, Discipline does, however, have a few redeeming qualities. Lead single Feedback evokes Blackout-era Britney, while the sensual house of Rock With U and electro-infused R&B of 2Nite and Luv both make for highlights.
Despite becoming her sixth No.1 album in the US, Discipline’s sales continued a decline for Janet. After the LP failed to produce any follow-up hits to Feedback, the campaign was shelved, prompting Janet and Island to agree to terminate their contract.
Label Rhythm Nation
US No.1 UK No.11
With countless false starts and abandoned album recording sessions rumoured in the seven years since her previous release, not to mention an apparent focus on acting projects, fans had all but given up on the prospect of a new studio album from Janet. Though she had nothing to prove at this point, 2015’s Unbreakable, far exceeded expectations.
Her best album since The Velvet Rope, Unbreakable recreates the undeniable chemistry and magic conjured up by the dream team of Janet, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Highlights include dancefloor anthems Burnitup! and Night, the sensuous R&B of No Sleeep, retro-inspired hip-pop via Dammn Baby and anthemic power ballad Well Traveled. Also impressive was the slick synth-pop of The Great Forever and the emotional Shoulda Known Better.
Landing her back at the top of the US album charts and greeted with a critical reception which finally gave her work its long overdue credit, Unbreakable is a triumph on all counts.
Watch “Gold” by Osvaldo Supino
Considering the speed at which Osvaldo Supino is putting out his new tracks these days. I did not find it unusual when I discovered a press release announcing a new pride song by a Milan-based independent singer-songwriter hidden away in the submissions pile. (That has grown since I returned from Europe over the summer.) Similarly, if anyone was going to share an anthem for pride, one from Osvaldo Supino was likeliest an obvious choice.
During pride month it is typical. There are a number of tracks recognised for their uplifting and empowering nature. Of course, Osvaldo should put out a celebration song that at the same time contains an important message and becomes a real hymn to tolerance, respect and love for oneself. This song is “Gold“. “It goes beyond any flag color, beyond any genre, but directed at the essence and beauty of each of us.” – says Osvaldo, further adding
“Sometimes it is precisely what has hurt us so deeply and how we get up to make us understand how important we are. For ourselves, how strong we are despite everything, how “golden” we really are.”
His intention with the song is to go beyond promoting only feel-good vibes. There is plenty of such like happening in the rousing melody of the track. Using splashes of colour and gold embellishments, of course. The music video, produced together with the Caravians, highlights diversity and uniqueness. There may be countless tracks written over the years that are called ‘gold,’ but the one by Osvaldo wasn’t mere luck on his part. The anthem bears the hallmarks of classic dance-pop. This is a song that is suitable for any occasion The club, the beach, a birthday party, or even at a grandparent’s wedding anniversary celebrations. A song with multi-purposes is always good to have. As “Gold” suits many occasions, Osvaldo can expect to perform it from here until eternity.
More reasons to celebrate. VEVO has also selected Osvaldo’s song “Gold” for its Pride Vevo 2022 campaign.
Q+A – Held By Trees
David Joseph’s instrumental project Held By Trees sees Talk Talk alumni joining forces for a remarkable album that immerses itself in the aura of the band’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock eras…
Instrumental project Held By Trees is the stuff of dreams for fans of Talk Talk and Mark Hollis. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist and composer David Joseph, their new studio album Solace dips into late-period Talk Talk and Hollis’ solo LP for inspiration using many of the same musicians that played on those sessions.
Guitarist Robbie McIntosh, percussionist Martin Ditcham, pianist Laurence Pendrous and flautist Andy Panayi are all onboard, while the record is mixed by Talk Talk collaborator Phill Brown.
Furthermore, the eight-track LP includes a latter-era Pink Floyd ambience in places with the band’s live guitarist Tim Renwick also contributing to Solace. Bolstering the ranks, too, are Dire Straits founder member David Knopfler, Blur/Damon Albarn sideman Mike Smith and blues great Eric Bibb.
If, like many of us, you’ve looked at Talk Talk’s slim yet stunning discography and yearned for more, this new album is a mouth-watering prospect. And as Storm Eunice battered CP Towers, the irony of discussing a record that celebrates the calming power of nature with David isn’t lost on us.
How did the initial Held By Tree project come together? Was there a specific jumping off point for it?
It was a couple of days in the first lockdown – a glorious Spring, an unprecedented quiet in the world, the aroma of blossom and cut grass was on the breeze. It was like nothing any of us have ever known before. Traffic was off the roads, people could only travel a certain distance from their homes.
The world felt like it was breathing in a new way. I found myself noodling on my home set-up and realised I was leaning into my great reverence for Spirit Of Eden, Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’ solo record. That minimal spacious sound. I came up with three pieces of music then sent them to Tim Renwick. He introduced me to Phill Brown who engineered and mixed the late Talk Talk albums and Phill was really encouraging.
In turn, Phill intro’d me to Martin Ditcham who played percussion on those records. That started a train of thought – what would happen if I got together some of the musicians that worked on the Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock sessions? I knew the had a long parade of musicians coming in and improvising on compositions. I thought they could then do a similar thing with my drum patterns and chord progressions.
That then prompted you to look further afield for collaborators…
I found Laurence Pendrous on Facebook who played piano and harmonium on Mark Hollis’ solo record. Andy Panayi also came from Facebook who played flute and clarinet on Mark’s album. Before long, I had a nucleus of people who’d worked with Hollis and/or Talk Talk. Then we got Robbie McIntosh, who uses the same studio in Dorset as me – Room With a View – in on the sessions.
We started to replace my demos with real parts allowing places for more improvisation. This was all going on during various stages of lockdown so a lot of these guys recorded their parts in their own home studios. The cast has ended up including David Knopfler, Eric Bibb – who’s a massive hero of mine – as well as Mike Smith who is Damon Albarn’s musical director and plays saxophone on our album.
This must be the first time that this set of musicians have been back together working on the same project surely?
It is. Someone I guess was always going to think of this, though. It just happens to have been me. Time waits for no man and many of the collaborators on those Talk Talk records are no longer with us. People like Henry Lowther on trumpet. We’re 30 years on from the last Talk Talk album and 25 years on from the only Hollis record. That’s a lot of silence.
There’s a lot of Pink Floyd influence on this album, too, and the instrumental supergroup Sky. And there will always be a lot of influence of whatever Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon are up to. Blur are my favourite band. There’s a parallel with what Damon is doing in his solo work these days in improvisation and being inspired by the landscape.
What about live plans? There’s footage online of you rehearsing…
We’re exploring that very seriously for late 2022 or sometime in 2023. Everyone in the band is pretty busy. We have Robbie McIntosh and Paul Beavis who is Andy Fairweather Low’s drummer. Andy Panayi is an in-demand session musician and accomplished jazz soloist who also lectures at the Royal College Of Music.
Fittingly, there’s an ecological element to the new album…
We’re partnering with the Play It Green organisation. We’ll be able to plant a real tree in a sustainable managed forest in Madagascar for every album that we sell, which takes care of our carbon footprint. It actually takes out more carbon from the atmosphere than we put in via manufacturing the record. We’re not the first to do this, I think Pink Floyd planted forests with the proceeds from their Echoes compilation about 20 years ago.
But to know we’re doing this with a clear, green conscience while celebrating the natural world with our music feels right. We’re using as little plastic as possible in the manufacturing process, recycled eco mix vinyl and recycled card with the CDs. Without being preachy, annoying and woke, we’re trying to do the right thing regarding climate change.
The power of nature is intrinsic to the statement you’re making isn’t it?
The album is called Solace for a reason – the music was solace to make for me during lockdown and I hope it translates for the listener that they find a sense of comfort and peace listening to it. Trees are a divine symbol of solace because they quietly get on with giving us air, removing carbon and serving this planet.
When we walk among them we’re in the company of a lifegiving force. Nature looms large in the album as I’ve included field recordings I made in the South West over the course of several months. There’s a real thunderstorm from a field in Wiltshire, the sound of the waves from Bournemouth beach at night and birdsong from a wooded valley in North Somerset.
That’s woven into the music and there’s something about the sound of the natural world which does something to the human soul that’s quite powerful. There’s nothing like the dawn chorus or the sound of a blackbird singing as dusk comes on.
There’s an incredible bravery to Mark Hollis’ songwriting, the way he gradually stripped it back was almost unprecedented as a major artist…
It was a withdrawal and a deliberate direction that ends with years and years of silence. Not just in terms of his musical output but in terms of his press. Now, of course, he’s passed on so that silence is permanent. That journey is almost a perfect narrative.
With the Hollis solo LP, there’s a kind of intimacy and vulnerability that’s incredibly disarming and almost painful in its paucity because there’s so much space and weight on every note. I’m almost emotional thinking about how the solo album ends. How the silence that follows was so intentional.
As I understand it from talking to people who knew Mark, there was never any intention of making a follow-up. He’d said everything he wanted to say. He worked a little bit with UNKLE but remained uncredited as he got his name taken off the album. Mark also produced a couple of tracks on Anja Garbarek’s album Smiling & Waving in 2001. Then there was this weird 30-second piece for the TV show Boss…
It’s a pretty nondescript piece of music isn’t it, that soundtrack piece...
It’s incidental sound really. If Mark had done anything you’d think it would be along the lines of avant-garde minimalists like Morton Feldman, Steve Reich or John Cage. Deliberately obtuse and difficult. He did a solo piece for an art installation that’s called Piano, which is out there and was around the same time as the solo album.
There’s no singing on it, it’s just piano. The first song on our album is called Next To Silence. If you imagine an ocean of nothing in terms of where the Talk Talk/Hollis thing got to, to even tread on the edges of that holy ground I thought that we had to emerge from the silence.
I’m at pains to say that I don’t think I’m Mark Hollis and we’re not Talk Talk but if we are going to have so many people involved in this project as worked with them, then uttermost care and reverence needs to be applied because of how much that music means to so many people. It only increases as time goes by as more and more generations discover Spirit Of Eden onwards. I know that I have to tread incredibly respectfully.
Wer weiß es? 😎🍁 #rap #rapper #usa #top5 #geld #finanzen #music
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