Work on a third Bananarma album began in earnest in March 1985 at Odyssey studios in London with Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, who had produced six of the group’s last seven singles. But the songs they started to work on initially (A Trick Of The Night, Do Not Disturb and Vicious Circle) were Jolley and Swain originals that Bananarama had had no hand in writing; the form had been that the girls co-wrote the songs they performed with their producers. And in June, that formula was reactivated when they wrote and recorded some new songs with new producers, Phil Bishop and Patrick Seymour. By that point, there had been no new release from Bananarama for over six months and their record company London wanted a single. There were slim pickings from these latest sessions so far as a possible hit was concerned: the Bishop/Seymour tracks ended up as B-sides and Bananarama weren’t confident about the rest. In the end, London went with Do Not Disturb and put it out in August. What it had going for it was that it was up-tempo, but it lacked the energy of the group’s biggest hits: in short, it sounded like an album track and probably should have remained one. And that was the problem with everything the group recorded that year: there just wasn’t a chart song there. As Do Not Disturb reached its peak at the wrong end of Top 40, Bananarama were back in the studio with Jolley and Swain recording the bulk of what would become their next album, a sombre set of moody and atmospheric recordings with some serious – bleak, even – lyrics. When the final tracks for the album, including title song True Confessions, were completed in November that year, it was evident that there was no stand-out number that London could use to promote it as a single. Bananarama themselves were unhappy with the finished product when they heard the masters in December. “I don’t think we should have worked with Jolley and Swain – that relationship had lost its bite. We had made that entire album with them and we weren’t happy with it, and that was why we went to make those final tracks with Stock Aitken Waterman,” Siobhan Fahey said.
Bananarama had performed their version of Shocking Blue’s Venus for some years at PAs and initially approached Jolley and Swain with the idea of including it on the album. “We said no because we were exhausted after a difficult album and we thought, ‘oh no, not another cover’,” said Tony Swain. Siobhan had been impressed by Stock Aitken Waterman’s arrangement and production of the Dead Or Alive hit You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) and so the girls approached them instead with the Venus idea in early ‘86. It worked: the combination of a song the group was very familiar with and Stock Aitken Waterman’s brash, sprightly production resulted in a hit – Top 10 in the UK and #1 in America. A renewed confidence was evident in the group’s promotion of the single, and the beginnings of a change of image: the video for Venus not only emphasized the girls’ camp sense of humour, which had always been evident but was now knowingly acknowledged, but also for the first time their sexuality. For example, the usually tomboyish Siobhan was dressed as a devil in a red leather cat suit. “It’s a fantasy of mine,” she told Smash Hits, “but the reality was quite disappointing. I couldn’t move very well, I couldn’t lift my hands above my elbows…I felt like screaming after a few minutes in those six-inch stilletos. So I was feeling vulnerable instead of really strong and evil.” Keren and Sara also got to play a variety of characters. “I played a French tart throwing this defenceless man about,” said Keren. “And I also played a female vampire. I liked what it looked like, but the teeth were a bit hard to come to terms with – they were obviously meant for Christopher Lee or someone. Actually, the coffin I was laid in was used for one of his films!” Sara: “One outfit was that of a Paramount film goddess – all long and white and flowing with white branches growing out of me and a bird in my hand. Another outfit was like Morticia off ‘The Adams Family’ with a long black cloak like bats’ wings with poles in it so I could cover all these naked men. It was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever had to wear. I had a plastic PVC corset strapped round me and all those men huddling around the flames in front and I was really boiling!”
Another Stock Aitken Waterman track was quickly arranged as a follow-up, More Than Physical, which Bananarama co-wrote with their new producers. Both songs were hurriedly added to a revised tracklisting for the True Confessions album, sitting uncomfortably among the Jolley and Swain material, some of which had been sitting in the can for well over a year before the LP made the shops in the summer of 1986. Tom Hibbert, reviewing the album for Smash Hits, called it “a proper pop album” where Bananarama proved they could “sustain the charm across an entire LP. In fact, it’s the hit singles Venus (stupid) and Do Not Disturb (mildly irritating) that stand out as ‘not-much-good’ here.” Instead, he praised the rest: “We find the ‘Rams’ getting moody and ‘obscure’ (True Confessions, In A Perfect World), drowning in Jolley and Swain’s production tricks (Hooked On Love) and generally pouting out.” After the album appeared, promotional activity was scaled back as Keren was expecting a baby. Meanwhile, the choice for the next single was A Trick Of The Night, one of the earliest recordings made for True Confessions. London issued it as an EP which featured both production teams’ take on the track: one side featured the original Jolley and Swain mix of the song plus another track from their ’85 sessions with Bananarama, and the flip had Stock Aitken Waterman’s take with another of their more recent recordings with the group. This gave fans the opportunity to pick the Bananarama sound they preferred. For the rest of the 1980s, though, the group made it clear which one they favoured.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Aug. 4
BANANARAMA More Than Physical (London NANA11)
BRONSKI BEAT This Heart (Forbidden Fruit BITE8)
BROTHER BEYOND I Should Have Lied (EMI EMI5569)
Leee JOHN Rock Me Slow (R&B RBS1805)