Siouxsie and The Banshees – just a dodgy old goth band?

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Four Siouxsie and the Banshees albums are to be remastered, each expanded by four bonus tracks, and released on 6th April. The albums are A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, Hyaena and Tinderbox, originally issued between Nov 1982 and April 1986, plus the live album Nocturne from late ’83.

The three studio albums, their fifth, sixth and seventh, feature the usual core line up of Siouxsie, Steve Severin and Budgie but each employ a different lead guitarist; John McGeoch, Robert Smith and John Valentine Carruthers. Smith also plays on Nocturne.

For my part I’m hearing these for the first time. I liked the Banshees but these releases coincided with the moment that I stopped following their progress. Not that I was ever an avid fan, but they were a great singles band and I think they fall into that rare bracket of bands that nobody vehemently dislikes. It’s a backhanded compliment I know, but a compliment nonetheless.

So, after a run of great singles from the early classics Hong Kong Garden and the Staircase (Mystery) we come to a period where the post-punk era was beginning to sort itself out. Or fizzle out depending on your viewpoint. The Banshees had already distanced themselves musically from their punk roots and developed a sound of their own and a loyal following. They, along with Bauhaus and The Cure, were inventing goth~ Not that I’ve ever labelled Siouxsie & the Bs as such. I have always thought of goth as a fashion/lifestyle not a music. The fact that goths like similar bands and totally latched on to this lot is completely plausible.

The Banshees run of great singles continued with Happy House, Christine, Israel and Spellbound followed by some lesser cuts before scoring a huge hit with the Beatles cover Dear Prudence. It has been added to Hyaena as a bonus track not having been on the original album.

Nocturne, recorded over two nights at the Albert Hall, was originally issued as a double album and sounds pretty good to me. I can take or leave the live album, for me it’s a genre that can be a bit tedious even with the best of bands. I like demos but am not so keen on live cuts. The sound in this instance, however, is very good. How much of that is down to the remastering I couldn’t say – remember I’ve not heard the original. It starts with Israel, which proves to be the best track, but continues for over an hour with cuts from Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (the punk hits having already been jettisoned).

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Tinderbox was the best of the studio albums on first listen. It seemed slightly, but significantly different to the other two, kicking off, as it does, with Candyman, a rather upbeat single, reminiscent not only of their earlier material but the guitar is, wait for it…Marresque! Honestly! It is not so ridiculous ~ Johnny Marr was not the first with that spangly sound, he just crafted something distinctive and influential from it. Swap Siouxsie for Moz and imagine it as a bonus track on Hatful of Hollow.

I have now played the three studio albums thrice, and can say that not only are they improving on each listen, it is proving a pretty enjoyable experience, although the singles often prove to be the best tracks (Fireworks, Melt, Slowdive, Swimming Horses, Dear Prudence, Candyman, Dazzle, Cities in Dust all appear). A look at the Guinness Book shows that, apart from the mega hit Dear Prudence, all grazed the top 30, couldn’t break into the top 20, then waved goodbye. However, this is fair proof of a band with a loyal following; a following strong enough for each release to hang around for a month or two, but not quite managing to pick up new recruits. It could just be that the goth thing put people off!

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A Kiss in the Dreamhouse would appear to be the poppiest of the three with Green Fingers and She’s a Carnival particularly outstanding.

All come in deluxe packaging with extensive sleevenotes by Paul Morley who, in his NME days, was usually a pretty good judge of a band. He was also fearless in navigating the choppy straits that lap the coast of Pseud. I’ve not seen the full transcripts but if he can keep this standard up over four albums he’s going to take the whole box of McVities (this is from the notes for Nocturne);

“Siouxsie and the Banshees, that’s the spirit, took the opportunity to treat the venue like a castle – their own opulent private space where they could speak with some authority about invented creatures, spiritual experiences, insane tenderness, psychological woes, whimsical impulses, solitary sexual dreaming, twilight realms, genes and keepsakes and the futile lurchings of the human heart – and got on with their business.”

Attaboy!

Dodgy old goth band? Far from it. I’m not necessarily advocating buying the lot, but this is a good opportunity to reaquaint yourself with a damn fine band. Not as important as Joy Division, perhaps not quite as important as PiL, but poppier than both and that’s the currency we favour here at Pop Junkie.

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