Record Collector (January '05)

Downside Up (**** = four stars)

Polydor/Universal 982 183-3 (4CD)

Banshees B-sides - down, for them, is up

Ever iconoclastic, The Banshees used the B-side as an important creative outlet, mirroring or twisting themes initiated on their classic stream of singles and albums. No throwaway tracks here, then, although this definitive remastered box-set displays remarkable diversity, spontaneity and playfulness. These four CDs show why they were by far the best group to come out of punk; their sense of exploration is palpable.

One of their finest b-sides was also their first. Voices appears now freed from the murky production that marred the original, sounding more powerful than in 1978, when, with typical Banshee perversity, its bleakness backed their first Top 10 single, Hong Kong Garden. Another version appears here from The Thorn, an orchestrated EP of ferocious intensity, which, like many of these 54 tracks, debuts here on CD.

CD1 is the sound of a group finding itself after imploding. The remarkably defined 1977-79 line-up gives way to a less angular, broader sound, with varying results. Drop Dead/Celebration is still a wonderful explosion of bile aimed at their absconded guitarist and drummer, while Slap Dash Snap is prototype techno. Their version of Ben E. King's Supernatural Thing still baffles. By CD2 they are firing on all cylinders, a pop group thrillingly ahead of the pack. CD3 is immaculate.

What is mot apparent in this collection though is that their power, coupled with Siouxsie's image, concealed an incredible vulnerability. Admittedly, when playing at full force, as on the largely instrumental Sunless, they seem unstoppable. But on more reflective tracks like Sea of Light and Let Go you feel that here is a group who could go anywhere. Strangely denied their place at the vanguard of a defiantly blokeish rock fraternity, it's time for a drastic reappraisel.

Murray Chalmers

Contributed by Neil Murray.

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