Of all the musical comebacks and relaunches of recent years, the return of Bananarama (these days that’s Karen Woodward and Sara Dallin) is one that makes sense, at least in terms of timing.
With girl groups such as labelmates The Saturdays and Girls Aloud – not to mention the seemingly indestructible Sugababes, and the fresh off the conveyor belt Dolly Rockers – all garnering plaudits for their well-crafted pop songs that rely on a bucket load of sass, a shed load of personality and, if it helps, a cracking voice or two, it seems right that Britain’s original girl group return to the fold.
Unfortunately, what started life in the 1980s as brilliantly rough-around-the-edges – all dungarees and badly bleached hair – has morphed into ‘cyber-pop’ mould. Much of Viva sounds like it was focus-grouped to include every element of pop in 2009, from the irritating auto-tuned vocals that pepper Extraordinary, to the awful, low-slung funk of S-S-S-Single Bed (a definite low point), to the general overuse of that fizzing synth sound that Xenomania use on any number of their tracks.
That particular production team haven’t worked on Viva, and yet you can’t shake the feeling that the label have gone for a cheaper replica, with a number of songs sounding like off-cuts from last year’s Girls Aloud album Out Of Control. Tell Me Tomorrow is an attempt at the electro-ballad that Girls Aloud have managed to perfect with their own Call The Shots and The Loving Kind.
The key to these songs is the lyrics, which feature memorable couplets that somehow sum up a range of emotions efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, much of Viva relies on cliché, the result being that many of the songs tend to blend into one, with too few hooks and choruses really hitting the mark.
It’s not all bad news. Lead single Love Comes is a fantastic hi-NRG electro belter that features a brilliantly simple chorus that makes you feel mildly delirious even when you’re sat down, so it’s anyone’s guess what it would do in a club. Dum Dum Boy is another Girls Aloud facsimile that just about gets away with it because it’s so mindless – “dum, dum, boy, making noise… dum, dum, boy, with all your toys” runs the chorus. It also features a neat homage to the Spice Girls with it’s bridge of “who do you think you are? You ain’t no superstar”.
Another highlight, and perhaps the most frustrating song on the album, is Twisted. Over a genuinely inventive beat of pattering drums and off-kilter keyboards, it’s the only song on the album that doesn’t sound like a highly polished copy of something you’ve heard a million times already. If only they’d allowed their personalities to shine through on more of the album, they could genuinely be in with a shout of toughing it out with the Sugababes et al.
As it stands, Viva is a so-so pop album by a group living off their name yet sounding like everything else that’s around. They might have been the first, but this isn’t 1986 any more. With pop music going through a partial renaissance period thanks to producers like Xenomania and RedOne, it’s harder to accept an album that already sounds dated.