The Scream (1978)
A landmark in post-punk, goth, whatever you want to call it, wherein our banshee bashes out her exorcist-like and artistic (not really) prose in animalistic form. This record still sounds as minimalistic as its punk ancestors but possesses (eventually) the dynamic of a textured and teasing John McKay guitar… but not in “Carcass”. Yock.
The Beatles cover is as unoriginal as the punk guitar clambering beside it and listen, the word “fucking”; dynamic, Siouxsie. It’s not until “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)” that I can inherently take in this album’s “true post-punk” elements – the deep, chunky guitar textures and prominent basslines – Wire, and later on, Gang of Four-esque. Bring me the head of the three-chord originator. Where was this shit all along?
The first half is flat, the second half is much the same, but the more playful timbres and textures of the latter will bring you ’round (“Suburban Relapse”, anyone?) and if the (would you believe?) melodic guitar with jazz fusion finale doesn’t bring (would you believe?) a “smile” to your face, the first half really did turn you into a carcass.
Join Hands (1979)
More prophetic and pathetic exorcisms. If anything “more post-punk” from the beginning this time; the bass, the guitar – they’re still quite cumbersome but isn’t that what this era of music is about? Gang of Four may have something to say about that, however.
McKay can definitely guitar, no question; sprinkles of rock riffs permeate his atonal attack (“Placebo Effect”) and Steven Severin’s template bass lay the foundations nicely, but our Siouxsie is singing about nothing. Devoid of any kind of subtlety or legible content, out of all of the lyricists of the era, the suicidal romantic Ian Curtis, the Marxist (initially) Jon King and the self-righteous John Lydon, I don’t think I get this one. “The Lord’s Prayer” – “Who’s that knocking on heaven’s door?” – I thought it was you, Siouxsie, have you gone mad? “Ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-fucking-ding” – there was a doorbell all along?
I’m not sure if the aforementioned finale is an experiment, absolutely not avant-garde, not in the slightest. Let her yelp away for the fourteen minutes for all I care.
As Kenny Morris and John McKay entered heaven’s door, Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin were left to wallow in the ersatz melancholy superfluously dished out over the last two records. Although the sound is just as expansive as before I can’t help but feel it’s more approachable, even the ridiculous synthsiser smothering of “Tenant”.
They can do rock, maybe without the roll, but I can live with that. The newly-fledged John McGeoch adds less of the post-punk screech (not much less) and more of the pop sensibilities (not much more) that would work their way into the British indie scene not long thereafter. Siouxsie’s vocals are not only more cordial but have a clarity of tone with, finally, a line or two worthy of your consideration – “It’s a hybrid of me, I’m a hybrid of he/You’re a misfit for me, I’m a misfit for you”, “You can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics/But this chameleon magic is known to be tragic”. The bass synonymous with this particular paradigm is let loose on “Clockface” and if ever a band of the era produced a song as noteworthy or as tuneful as “Christine” let me know, please do. Acoustic guitar in post-punk?
For the first time I can take the android resonance comfortably in my stride, particularly the second side of the record, and the laid-back vocals with less of the pseudo-melodrama caters for the less harsh instrumentation nicely.
John McGeoch has added an elan of guitar playing unseen in his particular field; the jingle-jangle with a merged density is an oxymoronic congruent dichotomy that John McKay was missing. Although I can easily take the Join Hands “Placebo Effect” firmly in my stride with its textured melody, McGeoch adds vicious chords but with a pop sensibility.
Siouxsie’s vocals now sound like she wants to elicit a scare rather than her banshee egregiousness of, say, “The Lord’s Prayer”. Steve Severin proclaims this as a “concept album” but judging by his wondrous competence on the rhythm section I doubt he meant sonically. I fail to see what’s conceptual about it, but I don’t care. “‘Trick or treat’/’Trick or treat’/The bitter and the sweet”, “A happy-go-lucky chap, always dressed in black/He’ll come to you, he’ll come to you” – maybe he meant the scares, who knows?
The spasticism of “Head Cut” will open the bladder be it in fear or its sheer ridiculousness… or both. “Voodoo Dolly” is again a vulgar final exit and illustrates the mundane stab at horror that otherwise stains the goth aesthetic of the first side of this prized album.
A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982)
Their most vast instrumentally leaving mostly behind the goth bathos for “neo-psychedelia” is crass, but the poly-textures/timbres keep you on your toes be such aspects as the recorder in “Green Fingers” a shock to the system. I get “Circle”‘s spiralling vigour to match the theme of the new wall of sound, but, “the circle has an empty sound”, Siouxsie – quite.
If this is an attempt at sounding more tuneful, it’s failed, bar the exception of the burlesque seduction of “Cocoon”; however, the dense weirdness and horror still evident are more amenable and surprisingly erudite even in this change of sound (kind of). The looping vocals add more to the sound, however, than the new string arrangements (“She’s a Carnival”, “Melt!”, “Painted Bird”); said arrangements envisage desperation at the eleventh hour and were thrust in amongst the “psychedelics” (which I’m still attempting to locate).
The most consistent up to this point with the word “atmosphere” jotted down on numerous occasions by yours truly. Robert Smith adds Cure-esque, wavy guitar riffs, adding a more serene canvass for Siouxsie to lay down some ethereal vocals.
The opener is wistful, caressing, then combatted by the driving “We Hunger”, a vicious change in pace therein that we haven’t seen thus far. “Take Me Back”‘s keyboard incorporates a world music aesthetic with a funk, Caribbean vibe along with “Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man”‘s almost Arabic cadence. Siouxsie is gratified by the serene instrumentation, she takes it vivaciously and colourfully in her stride wherein we hear a less dank and troubled atmosphere.
However, our Banshees do enjoy a heedless finish. The opening salacious sludge of “Pointing Bone” is counterpunched by the sonic mess thereafter – breakneck drum speeds, unattractive atonal synth and a vocal scramble. Funnily enough, the word “hurricane” popped into my cranium before the finale song title dawned on me but the production doesn’t match the musical accompaniment, I’m afraid.
A more mainstream sound to add to the dark flow therein, adding conventional rock sounds, sometimes progressive. I’m pleased to announce, no idiotic finishes and scaremongering. John Valentine Carruthers’ guitar is flung to the back, but he wants to be heard, like McGeoch, not quite Smith.
Severin’s stalwart bass is still evident and the chunky guitar is battling for the foreground; it auspiciously gets there attempting to rekindle past guitar triumphs (mostly), though the thick textures are very McGeoch-esque, even in their rhythmical state (“Cities in Dust”). “This Unrest”, with vortex synth, is frustratingly stained by whirlwind changes in colour and clarity, the simple guitar would more than suffice. Our Banshees can play when the full fruits of their mercurial talents are emancipated from the draining darkness – “Cities in Dust” is the band’s most mainstream effort to date with a polished Siouxsie larynx, tranquil guitar and electronic eclecticism.
These more orthodox surrounds do falter occasionally, however, fittingly with “Party’s Fall”, but the progressive scintillation of “92°” and the atmospheric, or rather, controlled cataclysmic “Land’s End” are surely enough to perk up the fallen soiree.
Through the Looking Glass (1987)
Now this is scary. Staring into the abyss of rock coverism, the Banshees have delved into flat, uneventful, mostly unoriginal musicality.
That being said, the superficiality of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” horn orchestration and differing vocal notes somewhat warrants this record’s (I think) paid homage. “Sea Breezes” breezes past Bryan Ferry’s drone with, first of all, more music, injecting a forlorn positivity into “hoping help would come from above”, though, in its contextual sense, the theme may be lost. Kraftwerk’s classic doesn’t leave you with the same dark, preaching locutions of modern society and celebrity culture like our German androids thrust upon us.
Though the disturbing gypsy style of the famous opener I could take or leave, the majority of this record is a triumph in its intricate, mercurial state. A pop album? Not quite, but their less guitar-oriented music has finally paid dividends with Martin McCarrick’s multi-instrumentation giving Siouxsie, like previously, a platform to colourfully incorporate her prose; but this time, however, her vocal exorcisms are vindicated.
Severin’s writing ability in “Scarecrow” is an ingredient any would-be spooksters would wish to obtain (we’ll ignore “Then pull the pastry from the pie/And pour the gravy in their eye”, shall we?) and “Turn to Stone”‘s positive outlook in the bleakness of succumbing to the Grim Reaper is something Siouxsie relishes. The creepy atmosphere of “Carousel”‘s abandoned Chernobyl funfair and the pathos of “Rawhead and Bloody Bones” are vignettes of darkness and despair, though the latter is anticlimactic in its bathos.
The intricacy of this record is in its overall picture; bravura strings and accordion, unassuming yet powerful mysticism, a dark essence with a positive backdrop and a plethora of musical arrangements ranging from post-punk and goth to alternative rock and electronica.
In which our spectre is averse to Stephen Hague’s computers and electronics. This leap from the virtuosity of Peepshow to an android lovey-dovey, fret-disco is, for the most part, trite.
Though the sonic rhythms and softer perspectives are eminently listenable, said atmosphere is retrospectively against the grain, bar the bleak operatic “Drifter” and “Softly”, and Robert Frost himself would be quietly chuffed with the picturesque Mother Nature composition of “Silver Waterfalls”. Sioxusie’s pigeon-holed tag of the sui generis of goth has been banished, I think, wittingly, but the softer reverential tones of this record are uneasy in their smooth production. “Got to Get Up” is an unBanshees-like track title and made increasingly ironic after the previous record’s “Turn to Stone”‘s unflinching face-to-face with the six feet under.
The Rapture (1995)
If the fall from grace hadn’t occurred as of yet, it just about has here. The pop pap, karaoke keyboards and flat, faux country of the first quarter had me loading my critical canon, but the back to black “Not Forgotten” merging that stylish Steve Severin bass with a distorted climax lifted my cynical spirits for a glimmer of momentary hope.
My opprobrium is validated thereafter; “The Lonely One” is most certainly that with, unlike Hyæna‘s “Take Me Back”, a Caribbean vibe lost in amongst the rest of the record. Neither here nor there. Where you innately take in the deathmongering of the band’s earlier work, a repelling force hits you with the likes of “I’m in a state of weightlessness/When I inhale your angel breath” – Prozac, anyone?
“This is the last string to sever”, I’m beginning to hope so. A blast from the past is “Falling Down”‘s post-punk bass with the fictitious observation of “Such a miserable suicide”, but the fatuously atmospheric “The Rapture” is facetiously melodramatic and long-winded, and that’s without the woodwinds. “Anger tinged with sadness/It’s always been like this” – has it?