Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Siouxsie & The Banshees - The Scream (1978)

My limbs are like palm trees swaying in no breeze....

  

Released in November 1978

Recorded at RAK Studios, London

Having been around for what seemed like ages, Siouxsie & The Banshees finally released an album, after a successful single (not on the album) in "Hong Kong Garden", from a few months earlier. It had taken a long time for the band to get a contract, eventually getting one with Polydor as a result of fan-led hype and media pressure, which was surprising, considering the band were musically quite competent.

It was a strange album - intense, dark and totally uncommercial. They certainly lacked the instant appeal of The Jam, The Clash, The Ramones or The Stranglers and also had no real Ian Dury or Elvis Costello-style "crossover " potential. They were "post punk" before the term had even been invented and their image contained a lot of inspiration for the new romantic movement, although in no way did it have the preening "look at me" narcissism. Siouxsie Sioux, hidden behind lashings of makeup, was dubbed the "Queen of Goth" (coining another new term) and, of course, the "high priestess of punk", while the band members remained faceless and down-dressed.

Personally, although I saw them live several times at that period (and even touched Siouxsie's hand), I was never really into them as much as some were. They were always somewhat bleak and sombre for my liking. I have appreciated them more in later years.

TRACK LISTING

1. Pure
2. Jigsaw Feeling
3. Overground
4. Carcass
5. Helter Skelter
6. Mirage
7. Metal Postcard (Mitageisen)
8. Nicotine Stain
9. Suburban Relapse
10. Switch                                          

The album starts with deep bass noise and then some mysterious guitar sounds, all very dark and introspective, before Siouxsie starts wailing in the background as an insistent single drum beat is added and what was a short, atmospheric instrumental in "Pure" suddenly burst into the classic Banshees guitar sound of "Jigsaw Feeling". U2 must have listened to this to get the guitar sound they used a year or so later on their initial recordings. Siouxsie's voice is in typical style on this track - affected, arch and somewhat haughty. Inspiration for many female singers in many post-punk bands for years to come. Musically, The Banshees were quite daring and sonically experimental in a way that most "punk" bands were not. Magazine were very similar. Indeed, their album "Real Life" was released five months earlier, so maybe there were cross-influences.

"Overground" has an insistent drum sound, again backing a plaintive, wailing vocal from Siouxsie, no doubt railing about the oppression of living in suburbia (a favourite subject). Most of the vocal were pretty incomprehensible, to be honest. "Carcass" is very much a quintessential late 70s Siouxsie song - instantly recognisable voice, cutting guitars with that trademark sort of "circular" riff and a rolling, pounding drum sound.  Then there is the over of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" which is marvellous. It sounds as if it cold have been written for Siouxsie to spit out the lyrics - "you may be a lover but you ain't no f***ing dancer!!". Starting with a dead slow guitar and bass throb, Siouxsie starts singing the lyrics slowly before that riff cranks up again and her vocals become more manic and it blasts open into a classic of its time. Best thing on the album.


"Mirage" uses an acoustic guitar under that usual guitar and drum introduction and has a catchier chorus than many of the tracks on the album. "Metal Postcard (Mitageisen)" is a very Magazine-like industrial guitar-based chugger with hints of Television and The Velvet Underground too. "Nicotine Stain" is a return to a short-sharp faster paced tone, the most "punky" of the tracks on the album. "Suburban Relapse" features some Roxy Music-style saxophone but, that apart, is similarly intense, like "Metal Postcard". By now I am always starting to feel it is time to listen to something else to lift the dense fog. "Switch" has a more rhythmic, slightly lighter intro, we can hear cymbals for almost the first time and a great vocal from Siouxsie. It is a six minute plus workout, with some excellent parts, all very different, particularly the slowed-down guitar/cymbals, bass drum bit at around three minutes and then when it ups the pace at around four minutes. Second best thing on the album. Actually, no, because of the excellent instrumentation, it gets the top vote.

Oh, and the non-album single "Hong Kong Garden" was a good one.

B-

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