I've been listening almost exclusively to Siouxsie and the Banshees for the last couple of weeks. Halloween seems an appropriate time to write something about them, and about Siouxsie Sioux in particular, given that a song entitled "Halloween" figures so prominently in their discography.
In my opinion, no other British group of the post-punk era underwent such dramatic metamorphoses or so thoroughly explored their potential as a recording unit as Siouxsie and the Banshees. Their albums were strong and intelligently sequenced, their singles (collected as ONCE UPON A TIME and TWICE UPON A TIME) were glorious, and their B-sides (collected in the box set DOWNSIDE UP) were a laboratory for fascinating experimentation. Siouxsie herself was such a compelling figure, so obviously a creature of theater and so sleekly photogenic in their videos, I find it incredible, even outrageous to this day that no one ever approached her to act in features. And when harrowing flipsides like "Umbrella" started turning up, I couldn't understand why at least one enterprising horror director out there didn't have the brain to put them in harness right away as the Anglo answer to Goblin. They were not ones for standing still; they went through guitarists like Kleenex (The Cure's Robert Smith moonlighted with them briefly), but their core guitar sound was essentially defined from the get-go by original six-stringer John McKay and later refined when the extraordinary John McGeoch joined the Banshees for three of their most beloved albums (KALEIDOSCOPE, JUJU and A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE). Even with later guitarists on board, they were a powerhouse live band, driven by Budgie's thundrous drum sound and one of the most original and authoritative female figureheads a rock band has ever had.
In the course of this latest immersion in the Banshees, I read some things and discovered that Siouxsie and Budgie divorced awhile ago and disbanded The Creatures, and that Siouxsie released her first solo album, MANTARAY, last year. She's still a handsome woman, and the album finds her still in strong voice, and noticeably less guarded about showing her tender side. (What's next, a sense of humor?) It's a good album, opening with "Into A Swan," a pounding ode to impending personal transformation -- a theme also reflected in song titles like "About to Happen", "Here Comes That Day" and "If It Doesn't Kill Me." The instrumental sound of the album is percussive techno-cabaret, appropriately fantasmagorical but with a array of instrumentation whose broad musical palette recalls A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE. But hearing Siouxsie's voice severed from the tantric, flangey, tidal swell of The Banshees sometimes brings about in actuality the sense of dislocation that she often sang about on the albums she made with The Banshees in the late '70s and '80s. The ever-fluctuating flavors of the record's instrumental backing gradually ring hollow (or at least fickle) over the course of ten songs, failing to provide in visceral anchoring what it delivers in varietal color. Of all the tracks, "Into A Swan" and "They Follow You" come closest to capturing a classic yet distinctively fresh Siouxsie sound. Vocally and instrumentally, MANTARAY is an inventive album, though it falls short of being a wholly convincing or coalescent one. Siouxsie's voice needs to backed by stronger personalities, and I hope her next solo album finds her sounding just as bold but less alone.