Archives for category: Music

Released: November, 1982
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Cascade
Green Fingers
Obsession
She’s a Carnival
Circle

Side 2:
Melt!
Painted Bird
Cocoon
Slowdive

This album has a really strange provenance. In many ways, it’s distinctly not goth at all, and in fact Wikipedia cites its genre as neo-psychedelic, though it has no connection to the west coast neo-psychedelia of the Paisley Underground, for example. There was a lot of tension between the band members themselves as well as their recently fired manager, Nils Stevenson (who the song Obsession might be about). There’s a great interview with Siouxsie that appeared in Uncut about the making of this album.

Lots of drugs, including LSD, but also an insistence that the sound be something new. Roping in real strings and bells to augment the sound rather than using synthesizers. The results are heady and beautiful and unlike anything else in their catalogue.

Lyrically, the songs lean on the emotions of new love, which is not surprising given the newness of Siouxsie’s and Budgie’s relationship. Oh love like liquid falling/Falling in cascades.

Green Fingers seems to be all about someone who can ‘make anything grow / magic in her hands’, but concludes with a repetition of ‘With this ring, I thee wed’. Musically it’s lush and growing and almost slithering out of the speakers.

Obsession, a slow waltz with instrumentation very low in the mix, is indeed about someone’s obsessive behavior, but told almost sympathetically from the point of view of the obsessive, not the object. It bears a strange resemblance to Throbbing Gristle’s Persuasion.

The album picks up speed with She’s A Carnival, which might be my favourite song on the album, except that its swirling mood stops quite suddenly to be replaced in the last minute with a circus organ sort of thing. Those first two and a half minutes are so sweet, though.

Circle is the only song that harkens back to an earlier sound. The minimal repetitive instrumentation with monotonous trap drum as the only percussion backs a song that starts off being about a girl of 16 who gets pregnant and has a baby like her own mother, but as the song progresses, it’s about the repetitions of life and poverty and discipline reflected in the musical repetitions and with references in the middle to the various lines of the London Underground, “Any line you can think of but for the Yellow” (which I’m pretty sure would be the Circle line.

Side two opens with the first of the album’s two singles, Melt!, which had always seemed to be about sex, but the song is also run through with references to death and funerals. But the intertwining of the two is not a new thing.

Painted Bird is another wildly festive song in arrangement, but seems to be about birds who attack their own when they perceive it to be somehow alien. It’s not an obvious point in the song, but the metaphor of society attacking those seen to be different or accused of difference is not hard to miss.

Cocoon is a weird piece of chamber jazz in which the subject wrapped in blankets on a cot imagines herself transforming but isn’t. The arrangement circles around a stand-up bass line and doesn’t (like most of this album) resemble anything they’d previously done. But the evolution it indicates will turn up on Tinderbox and Through The Looking Glass a couple of years later.

And the album concludes with the second single, Slowdive, which should have been a bigger hit given how obviously it is about sex. The slinky violin and viola arrangement draws the listener down into the music.

Sadly, John McGeoch’s excesses where just that much more excessive than those of the rest of the band that he was booted upon the album’s release. Robert Smith joined the band for the following tour and the next Banshees album, Hyaena.

That said, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse is absolutely a five-star album and one I’ve reveled in having on repeat the last couple of weeks.

Next: The Creatures’ Feast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Things_(EP)
Recorded 25-27 May 1981
Released: 25 September 1981
Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux, Budgie
Producer: Mike Hedges
Track list:
  1. Mad Eyed Screamer
  2. So Unreal
  3. But Not Them
  4. Wild Thing
  5. Thumb
Recorded just before Juju was released, and released later the same year, Wild Things comprised five songs across two 7” singles, at least one of which (But Not Them) was worked up during the Juju sessions. The idea behind The Creatures was that the ideas worked well as just percussion and voice.
Mad Eyed Screamer seems an appropriate soundtrack fo these times. It seems to describe sideshow preacher or world-bedraggled, drug addled street person. The title phrase also aptly describes this years demonstrators.
So Unreal points at the same dynamics, but from the perspective of having known the titular screamer before? I wish I could feel the way that you feel? No it’s not that, it’s that the person being addressed has gone the way of normalcy. All the traits you had have all gone away / Get up and wash at the right time of day. It might be a guise, but it it’s a desirable one. Get out of the scene and get into the so-called real world?
But Not Them is a classic Siouxsie lyric pointing to a murder (or more) that has occurred. Dead lumps of meat / Melt in this heat.
The cover of the Chip Taylor classic Wild Thing, which gives the EP its title (suggested by Steve Severin as the kind of thing the creatures in Where The Wild Things Are would have danced to), is twisted to one side. A classic declaration of love? No. Wild Thing, I think I hate you / But I want to know for sure / Come and hit me hard / I hate you.
Finally, there’s Thumb, which uses recordings of traffic at the opening and closing for a backing, and describes life mostly from the point of view of a hitchhiker:
One for the road, jump inside little girl take a ride by my side / No end to the ride with this stranger tonight.
The drum/voice nature of the Creatures’ work offers a starkness to Siouxsie’s lyrical approach to the world that is often subsumed in the Banshees’ work. These songs were remastered and included in the 1997 compilation A Bestiary of the Creatures.
Next up: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse

 

Released: June, 1981
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Spellbound
Into the Light
Arabian Knights
Halloween
Monitor

Side 2:
Night Shift
Sin In My Heart
Head Cut
Voodoo Dolly

Released just 10 months after Kaleidoscope, Nigel Gray is still at the helm.
Juju was preceded by the Spellbound single in May. Arabian Knights was released as a single in July.

After the tour for Kaleidoscope, this is the first album by this incarnation of the Banshees as a tested unit. Musically it’s their most cohesive set yet. The songs are individually different while each obviously contributes to a whole vision. Interestingly the album seems built around Budgie’s percussion and McGeoch’s guitar. Severin’s bass tends to be really low in the mix. (This may be a by-product of listening to the Spotify recording on earbuds, as well.)

And as I delve into the lyrics, which never really sunk in, the repeated themes of death and murder and violent sex are more surprising than I expected them to be. I listened to this album repeatedly in my youth, but never took that dive into what Siouxsie was actually singing about.

Musically, it’s anchored by a continuously maintained eastern atmosphere. This is more obvious on side one, especially on Arabian Knights, but each song feeds on that feeling. The chord changes that anchor Into The Light are another example. Arabian Knights features a minor key thing that feels like it’s being played from under water. I can’t identify what (I think) McGeoch is doing there. The finger cymbals also contribute.

Album opener, Spellbound, which was always one of my favourites, is a pop masterpiece on the one hand, but a horror show on the other. It’s similar in theme to previous work that explored the madness inherent in the family structure. Earlier, Siouxsie might have spun it on the axis of the child, but here she uses the line ‘And when your elders forget to say their prayers / take them by the legs, and throw them down the stairs’ as a counterpoint to the chorus’s ‘Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance / we are entranced.’ On the one hand, it’s revenge (possibly), but balanced by the insanity of childhood.

Halloween, which made onto many of my goth era’s mix tapes, wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the first three albums, but again, McGeoch’s guitar work separates it especially from the first lineup of the band. The toms and vibraslap that anchor the chorus are especially infectious.

Side one closes with Monitor, which I’ve always found to be amongst the strangest of the band’s songs. Musically it’s got this driving rhythm that doesn’t really resemble anything else in the post-punk or goth canon. At five and half minutes, it’s still beat in length by Night Shift and Voodoo Dolly on side 2. There’s something sweet in the fact that they took the time to give the songs the room they need to breathe and express what each one needs to.

Into The Light probably has lyrical depths I’m not plumbing but the song balances on repetitions of the rhymes light, white, sight, night, right. The rhythms pull the listener in as if through an aural spinning spiral. This is similar to the repeating motifs in Voodoo Dolly at the end of the album.

Arabian Nights combines images of oil spills, harems, and the repetition of I heard a rumour / what have you done to her. I’m not sure whether the music triumphs over the lyrics or the repetition is the point. Halloween pulls us again into the arena where the adult addresses the child who was:
The carefree days are distant now /I wear my memories like a shroud
I try to speak, but words collapse / Echoing, echoing “Trick or treat”

Monitor plays with the imagery of violence, possibly of a snuff film, pulling us into its horror:
And we shook with excitement / Then the victim stared up
Looked strangely at the screen / As if her pain was our fault.
Closing out side one with this kind of indictment, there was nothing left to do but flip it over and hear what came next.

Night Shift starts with those slow eastern chords and when Siouxsie enters, it’s in the style of a nursery rhyme. That she’s singing of someone visiting a morgue to commit acts of necrophilia (My night shift sisters / with your nightly visitor), well, we’re in the realm of the gothic after all. Musically, it’s crazy noise wrapped around Siouxsie’s disturbingly restrained vocals.

Sin In My Heart opens with finger-picked rhythms punctuated once with the sound of breaking glass. The minimal lyrics, again about sex, are mostly a placeholder for Budgie to wrap his rolling beats around.

Head Cut. Yeah. I want to take this severed head back to my house and keep it to make up and attract flies. And cook? Possibly. And astoundingly danceable all the same.

And the whole circus closes with mini-epic Voodoo Dolly. The singer addresses someone under the thrall of someone or something (She’s such an ugly little dolly / and she’s making you look very silly…you get paralyzed with her fear). The story part of the song evolves into a crazy repetition of the words listen, listen, listen, to your fear. Again, that hypnotic repetition draws you in. It’s an appropriate way to close the album.

While I’ve got great love for the first three albums (and, really, for most of the catalogue), those are 3 or 3 1/2 star albums. I give Juju five stars.

Next up: Wild Things!

Released: August, 1980
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Happy House
Tenant
Trophy
Hybrid
Clockface
Lunar Camel

Side 2:
Christine
Desert Kisses
Red Light
Paradise Place
Skin

Recorded in 1980 with Nigel Gray, who produced the first two Police albums, and would shortly go on to produce the third, Kaleidoscope is a nearly perfect pop album. It’s more interesting and more diverse, and has a more mature sound than that heard on the first two albums. The two singles from the album, side openers Happy House and Christine were released in March and May. Musically the sound is tight and clean with a greater focus on dynamics than on grabbing the listener by the collar. And it doesn’t sound like anything else from the period, either.

A lot of this is down to the skills of guitarist John McGeoch. There are some musicians who might point to four albums over the course of an entire career and say, ‘Yeah, those were real high points. I got what I was after.’ McGeoch recorded four such in 1980. He left Magazine after recording their third, The Correct Use of Soap; He also provided most of the guitar on Generation X’s Kiss Me Deadly, and Visage’s debut (alongside Magazine colleague Dave Formula and Midge Ure and Billy Currie who would go on to form Ultravox) before Kaleidoscope.

New drummer Budgie, who had taken over for Kenny Morris for the Join Hands tour, stayed with the Banshees until they broke up in 1996. Previously he’d played with Liverpool bands the Spitfire Boys (with Paul Rutherford, later of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Pete Wylie, later of the Mighty Wah), Big In Japan (with Bill Drummond, later of The KLF, Holly Johnson, later of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds), and played on the Slits’ debut album Cut (including the single Typical Girls).

I bring all this history in to suggest that the new additions to the lineup (who would also record the next two albums, before changing guitarists twice more) brought a certain experience and firepower, and the results show.

Side 1 is smoother listening than side 2, and there seems to have been a real effort at a thematic organization with the music speaking directly to the lyrical content.

Some songs, such as Lunar Camel and Red Light retain the synth/drum machine arrangements of the original demos and seem too sparse. I think this adds to the variety of the album’s color (as hinted in the title).

Happy House, which always felt to me like a report from inside an asylum, describes the differences between the public personas of nuclear family members and the insanity behind closed doors. This might still be a report from inside the asylum.

Tenant is a thematically logical extension of Happy House wherein the subject is trapped inside. ‘we crawl into corners — ignore any callers… Still they cling to the walls and knock on our doors… But they have eyes at the keyholes and ears at the walls.
The madness inherent in the nuclear family envelopes any who find no means of escape.

Trophy is about those mementos of a successful youth which we hang, but no longer live up to.

Hybrid is my favourite track on side one. While musically more complex than most of the songs on the album (the exception being Paradise Place, my favourite track on side 2 and for the same reason), it’s lyrically really obscure in a way the other songs aren’t. I like the tone poetry of it. The more I read the words, the more it seems to reflect a relationship between two people who were friends but aren’t anymore due to those things that break people up, but are hard to explain…

When you walked through the door / Marked “enter if you dare”
Reasoned with a friend marked “do not bend” / Bit on that finger marked “handle with care”

It’s more emotionally complex than I expected, even though I’ve been listening to this album for a long time.

The wordless Clockface and Lunar Camel, which seems to be about just what the title says, but I’m not sure. round out side one.

https://youtu.be/uktcCvhRGXA

The single Christine, about a woman with (what was then called) multiple personality disorder, opens side two. Danceable and strange, it flows into the rest of the album, but is somewhat apart from it thematically. Desert Kisses has this gorgeous layered feel, in which the guitar effects and bass provide an almost psychedelic backdrop for Sioux’s lyrics of (possibly) ship wreck and sun stroked hallucination. Red Light pulls us back into the present and the modern with the vocals played only against synths, drum machines, and samples of a camera taking photos. This is appropriate to lyrics about a pornographic photo shoot. There’s a certain psychedelia to Paradise Place as well as we hear disjointed lyrics describing, a plastic surgeon’s practice (You can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics). The original LP closed with the double-time percussion of Skin, which describes wearing fur and leather with a certain ambivalence (cover me with skin / accuse me of sin). It’s an odd closer, but fits nicely, especially with the two songs that precede it.

Next up: Juju

Released:
September, 1979

Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux (vox), Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitars), Kenny Morris (drums)

Tracklist Side 1:
Poppy Day
Regal Zone
Placebo Effect
Icon
Premature Burial

Tracklist Side 2:
Playground Twist
Mother/Oh Mein Papa
The Lord’s Prayer

Following the release of non-album single The Staircase (Mystery) in March, Join Hands was recorded in May and June. Lead single Playground Twist was released in June, and the album three months later. I first heard it in ‘83 or so and found it beastly difficult listening. Opening track, Poppy Day was actually composed to fill the two minutes silence observed in Britain on Remembrance Day.

Saxophones introduce Regal Zone, but instead of playful glam effect they added to songs on The Scream, in this instance, they’re more like blasts of a war trumpet. With imagery that includes helmets of blood and squirming bodies, we’re still in realms of death that don’t really let up for most of the album, either lyrically or musically. Placebo Effect and side one closer Premature Burial (the latter based on an Edgar Allan Poe story) continue this imagery.

Icon, in its second half offers side one’s musical ease from the album’s musical intensity. I was listening to this album while stretching after my run and found the rolling toms easy to listen to. Lyrically, we’re still in arenas of conflict.

Those rolling toms, so reminiscent of Maureen Tucker’s work in the Velvet Underground suggest that the structure of Join Hands owes something to the Velvet’s White Light/White Heat. Side one contains relatively short songs with recognizable pop structures, whereas side two contains one pop song succeeded by nearly 20 minutes of what Laurie Anderson would have called ‘difficult listening’. (I know this argument assumes that The Gift on side one of White Light/White Heat has a recognizable pop structure. It doesn’t. But that’s a topic for another essay.)

By the time the original listeners flipped this over to side two, the bells of Playground Twist, already a top 40 hit and performed on Top of the Pops, must have been a welcome respite. Its waltz-time signature however puts the listener on guard that this isn’t going to be any easier. Mother/Oh Mein Papa, recited mostly to the sound of a music box, has new lyrics to a German music hall song later a hit in English for Eddie Fisher, among others. Rather than the nostalgic memories of ‘my father, the clown’, Siouxsie sings of the suffocating parent who wants to mold the child. ‘She’ll stunt your mind til you emulate her kind’ is eerily similar to Pink Floyd’s Mother, released later the same year, ‘She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.’

The original release’s closer is a 14-minute tour de force rendition of The Lord’s Prayer. Noting that the Banshees’ first performance (the only performance of the lineup that featured Marco Pirroni on guitar and Sid Vicious on drums) was an extended rendition of this song. Does its inclusion on this album suggest that they were at a loss for material? It’s possible, but given how prolific the band was, this is unlikely. Troubles within the band, whatever those things that precipitated the departures of McKay and Morris on the eve of the tour might have been, are more likely. The words of the prayer are interspersed with snippets of other pop songs (Twist and Shout, Knocking on Heaven’s Door), show tunes, and wordless wails and yodels. The inclusion of Tomorrow Belongs To Me, repurposed from Cabaret, brings the war references of the opening of the album full circle.

Even though Kenny Morris and John McKay would leave the band before the next album, Kaleidoscope, Morris’ drum sound on this album defined their sound in many ways. the toms in Icon are especially emblematic of the Banshees’ sound.

The 2006 reissue follows The Lord’s Prayer with the punk single Love In A Void (the b-side to the next single, Mittageisen) and closes with Infantry, an instrumental originally meant to close the album, but left off the original release. (Wikipedia indicates there’s a Record Store Day edition from 2015 that includes Infantry after The Lord’s Prayer. That would be a nice version to have.) Infantry is a slow, echo-laden piece for solo guitar and effects pedals with a repeated motif that slowly fades out. I think this track makes for a more appropriate, purposeful closing to a very difficult and worthwhile album.

Next up: Kaleidoscope