Read my reviews of albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees:
1978: The Scream (???)
I have somehow never heard the Banshees’ debut album. Read my reviews of albums released in 1978.
1979: Join Hands (7/10)
The problem with listening to much of a band’s catalogue before listening to their early records is that those early records inevitably sound primitive or immature (or both) in comparison. And that was very much my first impression of this record when I listened to it, as if I was listening to the Banshees before they truly were the Banshees. That is, of course, entirely unfair, and entirely a perception I could only have having listened to this later, not being alive when it came out. But it’s still hard to shake it.
Everything about this record feels more primitive and immature and less distinct than their later albums. The sound is punkier but it also lacks many of the touches that make later Banshees records sound only like the Banshees. (I mean, outside of Siouxsie’s voice which, by itself, makes this band distinct from the vast majority of post punk bands.) That’s not to say they don’t sound at least somewhat distinct from other post punk bands – especially at this early stage, there wasn’t really a definitive sound – but it’s just not as distinct as it would later get.
But there’s also an immaturity here that vanishes later, best expressed by “The Lord’s Prayer”, a self-indulgent performance art piece which takes up most of the second side. It’s basically Patti Smith and it’s hard not to feel as though Smith’s own attempts at combining pre-existing texts with more contemporary music are far, far more effective (not to mention less boring) than this. Moreover, does it really sound anything at all like the rest of the record?
I like the rest of the record; it has an edge that their later albums sometimes lack and, if I can put those records aside, I can see how this would have been a pretty captivating listen in 1979, at a time when this style of music was just emerging and likely felt so full of possibility.
With the exception of the final track, this feels like one of the seminal early post punk records, suggesting a course different from that of Wire or PiL or Joy Division. But, for me, the last track knocks it down a peg or two.
1980: Kaleidoscope (9/10)
In 2012 or so I wrote the following:
I have no idea what kind of departure this record was for the band, as its the first Banshees record I’ve heard. So even though I read that this was a big departure, I don’t have any idea.
What I hear is well-executed UK post punk with “brighter” arrangements (for lack of a better word) than normal, and certainly that should not be a surprise, given the presence of a member of Magazine.
Siouxsie Sioux has been incredibly influential on female vocalists, especially in the world of Indie Rock. That’s readily apparent here. And I figure that should be acknowledged. But, to me, the real interest here in the (relatively) unconventional arrangements/production, which distinguishes this record from so much other UK post punk, which can get rather dour and somewhat repetitive in terms of sounds utilized.
I’m not sure I’ve had enough listens to fully digest the songs themselves, but they strike me as better than average for this genre. Again, it’s more the way they are performed which is of interest, because there’s a lot going on.
Pretty good stuff, though I feel like maybe I need a little more time to fully appreciate it.
Suffice it to say, I’ve had plenty more listens since and I’ve upped my rating. This is one of the biggest early post punk records, helping to both define the Banshees’ mature sound and move the genre out from under the shadows of Joy Division.
1981: Juju (9/10)
I quite liked Kaleidoscope but this record takes that sound to its logical conclusion, creating something that is simultaneously dark and post-punky and also bright and shimmering. They really found a unique spin on British post punk that no other band (that I’m aware of) really had. Of the records I’ve heard of theirs, this is the best, I think it’s pretty clear – consistent songs and an impressive display of a signature sound.
As an aside: it’s kind of a crime that The Edge is utterly adored the world over for his okay guitar playing and obsession with effects while most of us are completely unaware that McGeoch exists. His work on this album (as well as Kaleidoscope and with Magazine) really distinguishes him as perhaps the great post punk guitarist, despite The Edge’s fame.
1982: A Kiss from the Dreamhouse (8/10)
I am really big fan of JuJu for many of the same reasons I like this record: there’s this balance between the dark. “gothic” lyrics and Siouxsie Sioux’s vocals, and the often shimmering neo-psychedelic guitar and sound effects. But I definitely get a sense of deja vu.
And I get that sense even though this album is ostensibly the band’s most experimental, both according to critics and to the band members themselves.
‘Experimental’ should be used in a relative sense here because though what they with the organs and pipes and bells and things is weird for them, it’s hardly weird for other neo-psychedelic bands, or other post punk bands, or what have you.
But that doesn’t mean the album is unsuccessful; far from it. Even though the record does sound a little too much like JuJu to me, the weird departures from their sound are enough to keep me interested. Moreover, I think the set of songs is particularly strong for them: one of the songs is one of their catchiest ever and there are a few that standout as mong their better songs.
So despite its reputation as the self-consciously experimental album, it’s a strong set of songs and still different enough from JuJu to be interesting.
1984: Hyæna (7/10)
Reading about this album, it’s absolutely incredible how much ink was spilled over Robert Smith’s involvement. Even though it sounds like the Banshees (much more than the Cure) and even though Smith’s involvement in the songwriting is not explicitly laid out (perhaps because of this), the critics of the time attribute basically everything they like about this record to Smith. I find that utterly bizarre and indicative of both the sexism of the music industry and the obsession within that industry of treating certain celebrities a certain way. (If Siouxsie Sioux had joined the Cure, how much ink would have been spilled hypothesizing as to how much she dominating the songwriting and recording process?) None of this has anything to do with the music here, but I just found it interesting and, well, typical.
This is a pretty strong set of songs, regardless of the extent of Smith’s involvement, though I do not buy that it’s an obviously superior set because of Smith’s involvement. I find myself constantly measuring everything they did to JuJu and I’m not sure this holds up. But some of that is probably because I have not spent enough time listening to it.
I must say that John McGeoch is a personal favourite guitarist of mine so, even though Smith is a fine replacement, I find myself missing his distinct style of playing. But Smith does a fine job, and fits into their sound (on both guitar keyboards) enough that I’m not sure too many of us would have noticed if his involvement wasn’t so publicized. (I am a person who doesn’t think Smith’s style is that distinct compared to some.) The use of the orchestra on the title track is a new touch for them (I think) and it’s a good one.
I’ve read some comments about the dated production but I must say that I consistently find the Banshees embraced ’80s production in a way that worked, that complemented their music and never feels forced or “contemporary” to me. They have their distinctive sound on this record as they always do.
I like this record but I don’t love it. I’m not sure if I just need more time of if I just prefer the earlier version of the band to the extent that I’m never going to love their mid or late ’80s records. But if you’re a fan of the band, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
1986: Tinderbox (8/10)
Sometime between 2012 and 2016, I wrote the following:
The Banshees strike this weird balance where they pair a (relatively) bright sound with lyrics that wouldn’t necessarily fit with that sound. It’s not that the sound is particularly bright, it’s just bright for the genre, and I always find it a little disorienting when I first hear one of their records.
The songs are pretty good and the sound is appealing dense – even though, if you listen closely, there aren’t that many overdubs, it just feels like there are.
I guess the only thing that’s keeping me from liking this more is a sense of deja vu, that it’s maybe just a little more accessible version of what they were doing in the early ’80s.
I don’t really agree with that any more. I think this is one of their stronger records after their early peak.
If I have one criticism it’s the mix: Siouxsie Sioux has an iconic voice but it’s mixed so far forward that you lose the rest of the instruments (especially the guitar and bass) a little. I think lowering her voice and upping the guitar in particular might make this thing rock a little bit more.
1987: Through the Looking Glass (???)
1988: Peepshow (7/10)
The opening song “Peek-a-Boo” really threw me for a loop – those samples are a massive departure from what I’m familiar with from this band. My initial impression of it was that they were trying to piggyback on the emerging sound of hip hop and electro which they didn’t understand and were failing terribly. That was my initial impression.
But the song actually works, once you get over the initial shock of the production. And the good news, for people like me who are shocked by the production of “Peek-a-Boo,” is that the rest of the record sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees.
But, upon more reflection, the rest of the record’s relative familiarity is both a good thing and a bad thing. “Peek-a-Boo” is a pretty radical departure for them, and the rest of the record is not a departure at all. That’s more pleasing to a fan like me, but it’s also less daring.
This is a good set of songs, as far as I’m concerned. It’s such a good set of songs that I have toyed with upping my rating, thinking I might like this as much as any record of theirs, despite the fact that this is not my favourite lineup. (I prefer McGeoch to Klein not because Klein is a bad guitarist – he’s quite good – but because McGeoch is amazing.) With the exception of the lead-off track, they appear to have a found a pretty comfortable space, combining what makes them unique with a greater songwriting ability, and the willingness to take the occasional risk.
I do quite like this a lot. But I think, intellectually, I would have been more wowed by a record that lived up to the shock of the lead-off track, rather than one that reassures me that this band is still the same great band.
Bonus: 1989: The Creatures: Boomerang (8/10)
Does the idea of a Siouxsie and the Banshees album with the music made up of almost entirely percussion sound appealing to you? Well, that’s probably the easiest way of explaining this Creatures record to someone who isn’t familiar with it (as I wasn’t). It’s got a similar vibe to their parent band except the vast majority of noises are made by percussion instruments (and the occasional horns and other things).
So, after ignoring Siouxsie Sioux’s existence for most of my life, I have now become a massive fan. At this point I think I might just like everything she does, but I’m sure I’ll find something I’m not into a some point.
This record is not it. I find her sense of melody pretty great as usual and, though she will never be one of my favourite songwriters, I like the songs enough that I don’t spend much time focusing on them as songs, if you know what I mean. (What I mean is: I like the melodies enough and I don’t care about the lyrics as she’s a decent enough lyricist.)
The real draw for me, as it usually is, is her voice. I find her beguiling on this record, and I find the overdubs mostly quite effective and used just enough to help create a large sound world when there isn’t often much going on in the songs.
It’s somewhat of a lean record, but it often has a bunch of percussion instruments on one track. The non-percussion instruments are extremely limited – horns, the odd keyboard, a harmonica – but the result feels like a completely fresh spin on the Banshee’s sound. Not only is everything more sedate (for the most part) but the reliance on percussion for so much of the sound just makes everything sound fresh. (Also, it sounds distinctly unlike 1989, which is wonderful.)
I just really, really like this a lot. And I want to listen to their other records.
1991: Superstition (???)
1995: The Rapture (7/10)
This is my first ’90s Banshees album and I must say I was a little reticent to give it a listen, for two reasons. For one thing, though I feel like their ’80s records have dated rather well for ’80s music, I must say I was worried that this record would sound pretty damn ’80s. Then there was a lesser concern that maybe I was wasting my time. Though I am a fan of the band I kind of figured this record would be a little too inconsequential for my podcast, and I was slightly worried that I should be listening to something “more important”. My real concern in appraising the record is that I might dismiss it for not being important enough. (I mean, it was 1995…)
I’m happy to report that the Banshees’ sound is distinct enough that they manage to sound like a ’90s version of the Banshees, rather than an ’80s band accidentally alive in the ’90s. Some of this has to do with their judicious use of keyboards, most of which manage to sound more ’90s than ’80s to my ears. And they have adapted their sound for the ’90 a little bit, as some of the guitar parts, for example, sound much more ’90s than ’80s. (More distortion than they used to employ, for example.)
But what really sells it is Siouxsie, as usual. She is in as fine form as ever. The more I listen to her the more I feel like it’s basically between her and Kate Bush as to who was the more iconic and influential female vocalists of their age.
This isn’t their strongest set of songs but it’s still pretty good, especially for a final album. I don’t know how conscious the end was for them but it sure feels like there was a concentrated effort to do a good job on this record, which isn’t always the case when a band is falling apart. (I don’t know whether or not they were falling apart.)
Anyway, I quite like this. I’m not sure it matters for anyone who isn’t already a Banshees fan – I can’t imagine it would convert too many people – but it’s a good set of songs played in a way that manages both to sound like the band I know and sound different enough that it at least feels like it belongs to the decade it was released in. Phew.