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Black Bananas
Rad Times Xpress IV Michael Dix , January 31st, 2012 11:58

Black Bananas front-woman Jennifer Herrema is probably best known for her time in Royal Trux, the hermetic but highly influential group she co-piloted throughout the 90s (plus a few years each side) with her then-boyfriend Neil Hagerty. Emerging intermittently from a narcotic haze, the couple put out a string of surprisingly coherent self-produced releases that combined sprawling experimental psychedelia and chunky rock & roll riffage, but after an ill-conceived deal with Virgin fell apart, so did their relationship; the lovers split, dissolving their musical partnership in the process. Post-Trux, neither party took long getting back on the musical horse, but while Hegarty's adventures have led him on a curious path (see his often impenetrable work with Weird War and the Howling Hex), Herrema has remained faithful to her old muse: for the past decade she has fronted RTX, a group of like-minded souls whose main goal, seemingly, has been to convince the world that Royal Trux never really went away, but just got heavier.

But with this rebranding (despite the name-change, the line-up – Herrema plus Brian Mckinley, Kurt Midness, Jaimo Welch and Nadav Eisenman - remains the same) comes the suggestion that the singer is finally, gradually moving away from her past; because while Herrema's unmistakable voice immediately conjures up foggy memories of Royal Trux's lo-fi voodoo, the new Black Bananas sound is a significantly different beast. Sounding for all the world like the Runaways, Funkadelic and Daft Punk (circa Human After All) jamming T-Rex covers, Rad Times Xpress IV retains the bubblegum trash metal feel of the band's previous output, but stirs in a pinch of synth-pop and a generous helping of sloppy funk, and although the end result is as messy as anything Herrema has produced over the past twenty years, it's also her most focused effort in a decade.

Of course, more focused doesn't necessarily mean any less opaque, and Herrema is as hard to read here as she ever was. As far back as the earliest Trux records there was a question mark hanging over the sincerity of her over-the-top homages - in terms of both performance and attitude - to the likes of Jagger and Iggy, as to whether they were born of genuine admiration or simply some kind of ironic comment on the stereotype of the gurning, strutting rock singer they helped to create. A cover of the Stones' ‘Before They Make Me Run', recorded with Kurt Vile and unleashed online last November, would certainly suggest the former, but whilst the sentiment behind Keith Richards' Some Girls paean to heroin addiction (in a nutshell: "Junk is bad, but it was bloody good fun") is one that is echoed in a number of Rad Times' lyrics ("I almost died" etc), Herrema's wasted squawk so often borders on parody that it's tempting to view the whole thing as one big joke.

Ultimately, though, the question is irrelevant; Herrema and her group are obviously having a blast, and the fact that they have managed to blend so many disparate ingredients into a surprisingly potent brew is far more important than the supposition that they might not be taking themselves too seriously. Tongues may be wedged firmly in cheeks, but this bunch are no more taking the piss out of Mick and Iggy than Mick and Iggy were out of Little Richard and Elvis. Black Bananas - like RTX and Royal Trux before them - are a party band and, let's be honest, if you're the kind of person that stands, arms crossed, tutting because a group's lead singer is rocking the leather jacket and spandex pants look, you probably shouldn't be at the party anyway.