46:09 min • London Records • April 16, 1991
Bryon Fear reviews
Ripe is possibly one of the best queer albums of the 1990s. It was recorded by duo Banderas, who rose from the ashes of the Richard Coles and Jimmy Somerville collaboration, The Communards. There is something inherently comforting about Ripe, like spending time with an old friend – which is less wooly than it might at first sound, since the album plays like the kind of esoteric conversations had with friends after hours, covering subjects such as faith, loss, love, self empowerment and prostitution. For this reason, Ripe feels like the feminist sister to George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, which was released a year earlier. In terms of production it is not dissimilar either, using a variety of laid-back beats, strings layered with catchy pop hooks which sit in the mix at the top.
The album commits itself to the esoteric and philosophical right from its opening lines,
Where is the purpose in your life?
Where is the truth? Do you remember your hopes, your dreams?
They are no longer your own –
These are grand questions, and they set the album firmly on a path that shirks any notions of pop frivolity. ‘This Is Your Life’ is perhaps a little earnest, but the song’s insistent and unceasing rolling rhythm lends a sense of urgency to the commentary that works in its favour. The result is an intelligent and energetic dance track, which provided the duo with their biggest hit, charting at 16 in the UK. It is also the first of several songs that pivot around a central question. “Tell me, is it faith or fear that makes you believe?”, “I’ve done everything I can, so why aren’t you in love with me?”, and “Please where does it say, life has to be a certain way, show me where it says that you’re too old for love?” are some of the questions asked. The songs invite and often challenge the listener to engage more deeply with the material and it is truly affecting.
Strong melodies are a characteristic of all the songs. When coupled with the keenly perceptive lyrics the tracks are highly memorable. Musically, the album keeps the listener engaged, shifting its colours and tones effortlessly from danceable pop songs to heartfelt ballads. The rapturous ‘The Comfort of Faith’ slips into the dark pulse of ‘May This Be Your Last Sorrow’, an almost intoned mantra of a song, which then segues into the uplifting ‘First Hand’. Later in the album, ‘Too Good’ changes the landscape a little by borrowing the same middle-eastern sample used on ‘So Cold The Night’ (the closest thing here to anything from The Communards’ oeuvre) but the album maintains its course, passing through a series of musical valleys of upbeat highs and heartbreaking lows – but the journey is always with a sense of hope.
And hope is indigenous to Ripe. It is at its heart. As the album gently comes to its end we are treated to the yearning ‘Never Too Late For Love’, a song of sparse clarity with an unnervingly beautiful sentiment. It is a hymn to hope at its most painful and has been known to move me to tears.
Sally Herbert and Caroline Buckley crafted an album of ten perfect pop songs that effortlessly traverse a range of emotive states, each with their own distinctive melody, which makes for an extremely satisfying listen. It’s an album that leaves you wanting more, which is sadly ironic as this was (to my unending dismay) Banderas’ only album. But what an album it is: beautifully composed, profoundly perceptive and deeply affecting.