“The Scream”

SIOUXSIE & the BANSHEES – “The Scream” LP (Polydor POLD 5009) November 1978

And after the misdirected swastika flaunts, the “sign Siouxsie” jaunts, the periods of ‘apparent’ record company disinterest after the sign-up hassles, Polydor’s victory, after the single . . . The Album . . . The Banshees Album.

The months have not diluted the energy and vitality of this music; nor have they blunted the obvious enthusiasm. All that has been retained, and the band have been allowed to develop as musicians, they are now a finely honed unit. They could stand ground with ANYONE.

And Siouxsie. One of the more individual girl singers of the new age, she establishes herself as the premier female vocalist this decade, no trouble.

The material. Probably just the tip of a gargantuan creative iceberg. there are 10 porky-prime-cuts from an irrepressible Siouxsie & the Banshees repertoire, landed with perfect production. The overall feel is clean, lively, electric, professional.

So: Siouxsie & the Banshees and the songs and the sound. Insuperable formula, great album. For a debut – a murderer. A trendsetter – maybe not, but it attains new standards. It is an important record, of there’s little doubt.

Highly distinctive

Of the goods, there’s at least one fully-fledged masterstroke, plus a whole troupe of fine and vital rock and roll moments, all delivered within the highly distinctive and stylistic framework that IS Siouxsie & the Banshees.

Into the maelstrom ‘Pure’ is the curtain raiser, a succinct blow to the world of instrumental atmospherics, Siouxsie’s considerable voice is utilised not as a lyrical mouthpiece but as part of the musical subsoil. Also, it tends to reflect the downer overtones present elsewhere on the album, as evidenced by ‘Suburban Relapse’, the mock sadism of ‘carcass’, and the always ominous ‘Helter Skelter’.

This opening cut gives way to a chugging and insistent bass and drum rumble, and as McKay’s guitar joins in the action, the Banshees lurch full tilt into a desperate holocaustic ‘Jigsaw Feeling’ . . . . and proceedings are underway.

“One day I feel in total
The next I split in two.
My eyes are doing somersaults
Staring at my shoe”

from Jigsaw Feeling

Lyrically, this is a scene setter, and the whole album’s preoccupation with spiritual, mental and physical breakdown is so intense, it could well be viewed as a loose concept or project album.

The theme is developed by ‘Nicotine Stain’, which views the dreaded weed from two contrasting and thoughtfully conceived angles: as an aid to mental stability (never soother) . . . and as the procurer of health disease.

“It’s just a habit
When I reach to the packet for my last cigarette
Till the day breaks
~Then my hand shakes.”

from Nicotine Stain

The violent repercussions of this downer concept are examined in ‘Carcass’ (which I suspect, is tongue-in-cheek) and ‘Helter Skelter’. The latter clambers from the discordant axe-slash intro to a rampant, stampeding creature which recaptures the frenzied essence of the original Beatles; memories of the Manson campaign are still painfully vivid.

The final excesses of claustrophobic depression are the ‘Suburban Relapse’ and then to the album’s masterwork, ‘Switch’.

Unlike so many of her contemporaries, Sioux has a voice which she USES. On ‘The Scream’ she excels herself . . . and she wipes the floor with all competitors.

Also, The Banshees are working to the hilt: the arrangement on this finale is, at the very least, breathtaking, as it drifts through a legion of phases and tempos without ever sounding fragmented.

The album’s lyrical frame of mind is perfectly reflected in the work of McKay, Severin and Morris; constantly shifting, restless, controlled aggression, they are as essential as Siouxsie.

‘Switch’ is an acute and bitter observation of the final process.

This is side-swiping, poignant social comment. Even taken at its most basic level, ‘The Scream’ is stirring rock and roll which draws from the past but points to the future, REAL music for the new age. It’s a mature and polished work. It is vital, it’s moving, it’s a landmark.

But hell, for a while there it seemed The Banshees were never gonna hit vinyl, and suddenly . . . Hey-ho the album. Vinyl salvation. So buy it, nick it, borrow it, tape it, hear it. Christ, what else could you do with that four quid? Save it for a rainy day?

(Record Mirror 14/10/78)

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