Record Magazine (November '84)
The Scream, Join Hands, Kaleidoscope, Juju, A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, Nocturne, Once Upon A Time/The Singles, Hyaena
Siouxsie and the Banshees
by Nick Burton
Having recently released the entire XTC catalog, Geffen Records has now performed the same admirable service for England's Siouxsie and the Banshees. While half of the band's albums prior to Hyaena (the Banshee's first LP for Geffen) were released domestically, their previous label, PVC/Polydor, did little to promote the band on these shores. With luck, Geffen's major league distribution and the relative popularity of Hyaena will provide a broader audience for Siouxsie and the Banshees' wildly creative (if maddeningly inconsistent) music.
With the initial lineup of vocalist Siouxsie Sioux, bassist Steve Severin, drummer Kenny Morris, and guitarist John McKay, Siouxsie and the Banshees had their beginnings in the British punk movement. On their first two albums--1978's The Scream and Join Hands--the groups sound was raw and underdeveloped, marked by Siouxsie's monotone singing and McKay's neo-metal guitar work. While both records come off now as punk curios (Join Hands featured a wicked version of "The Lord's Prayer"), the band did show signs of strength and intelligence, particularly on The Scream's "Hong Kong Garden," a wonderful blend of punk and pop sensibilities.
After Join Hands, Morris and McKay split from the group. A new drummer, Budgie, joined in, and for Kaleidoscope, Magazine's John McGeoch and ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones filled McKay's spot. Kaleidoscope found the band in a pivotal state of transition: Budgie and McGeoch added a more precise musicality, while Siouxsie and Severin's songwriting turned from punk towards a terse psychedelia. "Happy House" and "Christine" displayed their penchant for macabre lyrical imagery, which found full flowering on 1981's nightmarish Juju, one of the great shock rock albums of all time.
With 1982's A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, Siouxsie's vocals began to take on a new expressiveness, and the group continued to expand and refine their musical resources by adding strings and keyboards, resulting in their most cohesive and musically challenged record thus far. Tracks like "Green Fingers", "She's A Carnival" and "Circle" pointed the band in a more sophisticated direction.
Continuing the Banshees' constant personnel shuffling, McGeoch was replaced by Robert Smith (moonlighting from the Cure), and the new lineup was represented by Nocturne, a double live set featuring excellent performances of their best material from the Kaleidoscope/Juju period.
Unfortunately, Hyaena, the Banshees' latest, fails to deliver the goods as promised by Dreamhouse. It's an ambitious, experimental album, but it ultimately has more to offer in its stylish, other-worldly production than its incoherent songwriting. "Dazzle", "Belladonna" and "Take Me Back" are somewhat satisfying extensions of the Dreamhouse sound, but most of the album is rambling and disappointingly confused in its execution. "Pointing Bone", "Blow The House Down" and a plodding cover of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" are the most pointless tracks the band has put to vinyl.
While Siouxsie and the Banshees body of work shows a marked inconsistency it also reveals a tremendous musical ambition. Perhaps the best place to start for the uninitiated is the compilation, Once Upon A Time/The Singles. In the meantime Banshees fans will have to hope the group's next move is represented by something more compelling than Hyaena.