SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – “Kaleidoscope” (Polydor 2442 177) August 1980
Siouxsie – and whoever happens to be in the current incarnation of the Banshees – don’t invoke an immediate positive reaction among many of the people I know. Maybe it’s because Siouxsie herself doesn’t come across as the stereotyped female singer (hooray!); she’s not overtly “soft” or “feminine”, in the present acceptance of the terms.
In fact, she can seem quite cold, sharp and suspicious. Her defences (if that’s what they are, which I doubt) have formed her stage persona and public image. All of this would possibly be accepted by the male audience prepared to overlook these peculiarities, if she at least sang songs that fitted the preconception of the norm (and that you could sing along to).
But she doesn’t conform there either. I admit it’s not easy growing to love some of the band’s songs. It’s taken me six hours listening (not all at once) to come to terms with some of this album.
Of the songs that reached me first, “Happy House” is the most obvious, flirting with the commercially acceptable and coming through unscathed. It’s one of the least fragmented songs on the album, held by a galloping bass line (by Budgie, who will be joining the band more or less permanently) and the nearest they get to a full sound.
Their hallmark is a bleak sparseness of instruments, so for Siouxsie & the Banshees this is quite a full production.
“Tenant” begins the surreal stage of the album, but is not one of my chosen tracks. Following, is “Hybrid”, which is. It’s the vocals that make this such a startling song: anyone who thought Siouxsie had the emotional warmth of an iceberg can hear themselves being proved wrong.
Her voice has just got better – sometimes sounding a bit like Grace Slick – and far from being chilly, it’s clear and cool.
From there, “Clockface” enters almost at a rock trot, aided and abetted by Steve Jones on guitar. His contribution isn’t a flash of thunder and a hail of fireworks, but I don’t suppose he was meant to stand out like a beacon.
Next on, “Lunar Camel” is another of the standouts. It has that eerie quality that haunts almost all of the album. The lyrics aren’t Poet Laureate standard but maybe Sir J Betjeman doesn’t have Dali-esque nightmares. It’s (again), underpinned this time by a deep church organ sound (described as “dromaderian” by its operative – Siouxsie).
You’ve probably heard “Christine” already, as it’s a chart song, so there’s no point in going into great detail – an accessible song, in spite of the story it tells.
John McGeoch, ex of Magazine, makes a considerable contribution to “Desert Kisses”, providing guitar, sitar and string synth, but despite it all, the song didn’t make a very strong impression on me.
“Red Light” had more of a crackle, punctuated by the whine of a shutter sliding on a camera. Severin uses synthesisers and a rhythm box for this track, adding to the mechanical mood. They haven’t gone overboard on the synth sound; just used enough to supplement the shards of their style.
That jagged approach comes across (at first) as pretty hostile, but the more you listen to it, the more you feel at ease with it.
“Paradise Place” didn’t dent me as much as “Skin”. That’s a rare, direct reference to current affairs from Siouxsie and Severin, condemning the cull of animals whose skins are sought for the glorification of rich bitches. As well as the sentiment expressed, it’s a fine song.
Well, it took me a while – and a stiff neck – to appreciate this album. If you want to read the lyrics, you’ll need a neck that rotates through 360 degrees, like Linda Blair’s in ‘The Exorcist’, as all the words are laid out like tracks on the turntable. but you never thought this was going to be easy, did you?
(Record Mirror, 26/07/80)
Not a significant move in any direction and so should satisfy their fans. The distinctive Banshees sound is still there – soaring Siouxsie vocals and air of modern mystery – with the exceptions of “Red Light” which uses drum machine and clicking camera to great effect.
Both recent singles are included and side two is excellent. A fair album by their own standards, good by anyone else’s, but where do they go from here?
(Smash Hits, August 1980)