The Return of Shakespears Sister isn’t just about the music

Ken Foster
Nov 6, 2019 · 4 min read

After a quarter century not speaking, Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit teach us that it’s never too late for second acts.

Last Thursday, on Halloween, Marcella Detroit and Siobhan Fahey managed the ultimate trick or treat: dressed as gothic-psychedelic cowboys, they played their first official gig in over a quarter of a century, launching their “Ride Again” tour and new EP. For a particular demographic (including me) this was huge. Though the duo is known for their hit “Stay,” from back in 1992, the album that spawned that single, Hormonally Yours, is one of the rare discs of that time that holds up even now: melodic, bitter, witty and expertly sung by two distinctly different voices. These women, now 67 and 61, aren’t letting anything go, and the new tracks, released in bits over the summer before their EP Ride Again dropped last month, bridge time and trends to combine a strange brand of Americana with a distinctly punky edge.

Sophie Mueller directed the video for Shakespear’s Sister’s first new single, “All the Queens Horses,” and incorporated elements of all their previous videos.

I grew up old-school Bananarama. This was back in the old, old days, when you discovered new music by hearing it at a record store, a friend’s house or by reading about it in a music magazine. You might also hear it in a club, if you lived near a city that had such things and were old enough to get in. But I was in rural Pennsylvania, so my entire understanding of British Pop started with the Go-Gos cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which lead to the Fun Boy Three original, and then to Fun Boy Three’s occasional back up trio, Bananarama. Nothing about Bananarama made sense, which is what made them so undeniably awesome: They sang in unison rather than harmony, and their flat vocal deliveries — even with three of them signing — provided a paradoxical edge. You might think there was nothing there at all, until you realized they were singing almost exclusively about stalkers, male prostitutes and social justice.

Then, in the later 80s, they swerved hard into ultra-pop, and Siobhan Fahey and I both left the group. Well, she left the group; I just stopped following them. I skipped the first album from Shakespears Sister, Fahey’s first attempt at defining herself as a darker, edgier, less blonde pop performer. Initially a solo act, it quickly became a duo, as Marcella Detroit was invited to collaborate, providing vocals and co-writing songs. By their second album, Hormonally Yours, Marcella was officially on board — and so was I. (I mean, as a fan.) Though they became famous — and famously parodied — for the single “Stay,” Hormonally Yours was a great album that has remained on my playlist all these decades later. Fueled by the two women’s concurrent pregnancies and a mutual obsession with “The Catwomen of the Moon,” it is great pop, but also truly great musically, which is what makes it hold up through every pop trend and back again. Lyrically, it plays my favorite trick: vindictive, angry lyrics that turn back on themselves to reveal the dual nature of betrayal; much as we like to blame one side, there are two to everything. “I’ve got a river inside the size of my rage,” they sang cheerfully on “My 16th Apology.” “Which is really something else, when you think of my tender age.”

And then they were gone. Tensions mounted with their success, and they famously split, never to speak again. But they were not forgotten. Ten years ago, Facebook’s algorhithms suggested Marcella Detroit to me as a friend. A few mutual connections — and a shared distaste with a certain brand politics — had brought half of Shakespears Sister back into my life. And last year, after Siobhan reunited for a brief tour with Bananarama, I sensed a shift in the universe was about to make things right again. This past summer, they released Singles Party, a compilation with two new tracks. The playful “All the Queen’s Horses” plays with their own fractured relationship while the video brilliantly parodies their own MTV-era filmography. “C U Next Tuesday” is less subtle — and catchy as hell. I want to dedicate it to some very special friends at an imaginary karaoke bar in hell. The new EP adds three more tracks to the mix: “When She Finds You,” “Time to Say Goodbye,” and “Dangerous Game.”

In a world of sometimes unbearably melodramatic real change, its not surprising that we may cling to safe reminders of the past. But Shakespears Sister is more than just a nostalgia act; it’s a creative reinvention. They aren’t done yet. None of us are.

A reunion like Shakespears Sister does something more than reassure us.

It also serves as an inspiring reminder: Catwomen will always live nine lives and land on their feet.

Ken Foster

Written by

Author of fiction and non-fiction; dog guy; bad boxer. New book, City of Dogs, is just out now from Avery/Penguin.

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