Through The Looking Glass (1987) 7/10
Peepshow (1988) 8/10
Superstition (1991) 8/10
The Rapture (1995) 9/10
Re-releases of the late-period Banshees with added rarities and remixes. Joe Whyte finds his inner Banshee and reviews.
It’s fair to say that I was a Banshees fanatic; I would probably say that debut album, The Scream, had an even more seismic effect on me than the first wave punk groups albums did. I somehow already knew what The Clash, NMTB and Damned Damned Damned were going to sound like even before I’d heard them, in an odd kind of way. That’s not to say that those bands and records didn’t, like everyone around then, change our/my world. The Banshees album, however, was a different kettle of fish entirely; that other-wordly aura, that icy attitude, those pounding, thundering drums and that nails-on-blackboard guitar. At one time, I would play along with that album and knew every note of every song backwards. I just couldn’t get enough of it (see my reappraisal is here.)
That Sioux / Severin / McKay / Morris line-up were unbeatable in my opinion and from the moment that it all went tits-up in Aberdeen on the Join Hands tour, I fell away from them ever so slightly. You know that way that you see the world when you’re seventeen; music takes on a ridiculous importance and things moved so swiftly back then that it was “next!” and on to the new pretenders to the throne. For me, it was The Birthday Party and other more extreme bands and from then on, again in that silly post-adolescent-angsty way, The Banshees were perceived as a girl’s band. I actually had, and I can laugh about it now, a completely irrational hatred of the song Spellbound because of that end part in the coda where Siouxsie shouts “entranced, entranced, entranced, dance! dance! dance!”. God, I detested that song……
I did, of course, follow the career trajectory of The Banshees closely. As a singles band, they were without parallel in many ways (removing the offending Spellbound from the equation, obviously!) and swept away most of the competition. I did buy a couple of the later albums, Ju Ju being a particular favourite, but it was never the same as my initial obsession with the group. So, these four albums, the last in their prodigious output, really passed me by at the time. Re-released now, with extra tracks for the collectors and completists, these are hugely endearing documents that demand reappraisal. In hindsight, these later period albums do not attain the credence that contemporaries like The Cure do for sheer quirky, odd pop and they really, truly should. The Banshees were never one thing (although being remembered for kick-starting goth probably wouldn’t be at the top of Siouxsie or Severin’s lists) and these albums show the depth and daring of a group out of step with the rock (and pop) world and unafraid to experiment.
First of the bunch is Through The Looking Glass. Described now as an attempt to update Bowie’s “Pin Ups” set, it was probably, in reality, a marking time exercise as the band had stalled following more line-up changes. It works in many ways; the re imagining of Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit is a bold, striking gesture and Siouxsie’s stentorian vocal adds the gravitas and horror the lyrics deserve in some style. The Sparks classic, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, is a sparkling run at one of their early influences and has a playful, fun streak that one rarely associates with the band. Added extras include The Modern Lovers She Cracked, which retains the paranoid, garage flavour of the original, with a couple of extra mixes of the singles. The singles, are in fact, where it stumbles; Iggy’s The Passenger is a clumsy, poorly-realised idea; This Wheel’s On Fire is clunky and unwieldy and loses the intrigue of the Julie Driscoll original. So,while it’s not “Pin Ups” and it’s not entirely crucial, it’s not half bad at all.
Peepshow appeared the following year and with a more stable line-up and the addition of orchestral instruments (also earlier used to great effect on The Thorn EP) it was something of a return to form. Scarecrow, from the album, has got to be one of the most fully realised songs The Banshees ever recorded. Siouxsie’s voice, which many critics derided over the years for being soul-less and oddly asexual, despite much of the lyrical content, has a real intimacy and sensual warmth and it seems that she was actually enjoying expressing herself on this album. Single, Peek-A-Boo, took elements of afrobeat, Fado and European dance music and melded them to mariachi drums. Breaking them as real contenders in the USA, it was a dramatic and daring turn for the group. Budgie, throughout this collection of releases, is the unsung hero. Some of his playing is a masterclass in world music percussion and his drive and quirky lane-changes are thrilling throughout. Peepshow sees a band so out of time with the contemporary rock world that it’s difficult to compare it to much. Suffice to say, it’s an album you probably should own.
Superstition, from 1991, was heralded by single Kiss them For Me (which introduced a young Talvin Singh to the world) and again was a boundary-breaker. Pop maestro Stephen Hague (New Order, Morrissey) took the helm and his digital methods did not find favour with Ms. Ballion. Despite the slightly glossy production, many of the songs retain the dread and anxiety of old; Fear Of The Unknown is a chilling and over-bearing panic attack. Drifter re- imagines the protagonist as a mariner adrift on a sea of doubt. The album has an air of phobia beneath the sheen and it perhaps reflects the place that Siouxsie found herself in personally at this time. Her voice, whilst retaining the ice-queen of before, at times seems oddly fragile and suits the angular pop of Superstition rather well. Production wise, this one dates the worst. Content wise, it’s up there with their best.
The Rapture (1995) was the final album in an eleven-record studio run. Not bad for a band who only formed to play one gig. With the jagged guitars and rock influences almost disappearing completely, it’s a lush and delicious nugget of bittersweet pop music. John Cale assisted in some of the production but any lingering Velvets obsessions are long gone. The songs he produces are slightly thin compared to the band-produced tracks which is a shame as the album is a fitting farewell. O Baby is a skittering, jazzy delight and Stargazer is a gilded, gliding lilt not unlike material from their glory days. The title track is all cello swells, eastern influences and doomed vocal, with Siouxsie sounding strangely bluesier than ever before. Fall From Grace summons a little of Joy Division’s top-end bass amongst it’s soaring vocal and acoustic flourishes. A terrific sign-off.
All in all, these re-issued albums are definitely worth seeking out. Most serious Banshees fans (who are nothing if not obsessive, in the best possible way!) will be after the unreleased tracks of which there are a few. The casual fan could do themselves a favour by giving these the time they richly deserve.
So. All we need now is the reformation. Over to you, Sioux……
All words by Joe Whyte. More from Joe can be found at his Author Archive.