Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Siouxsie & The Banshees - Kaleidoscope (1980)

We've come to scream in the happy house....


Released on 1 August 1980

Running time 40.44

This was the album which saw a real sea change in musical style for Siouxsie & The Banshees, moving away from confrontational, paranoid, gritty punk, new members Budgie on drums and John McGeoch on guitar saw them adopt an almost trippy, psychedelic sound. Synthesisers, acoustic guitars, drum machines were incorporated in to the sound and they experimented with electronic music, dance-ish stuff and atmospheric soundscapes while still keeping some of those killer, buzzy guitar riffs. Siouxsie was now "the high priestess of post punk" as opposed to punk in the cliché-ridden media's eyes. It heralded a decade of musically diverse albums from the band as they led the way in breaking new ground. For them, both punk and new wave were old hat as they pushed back boundaries.


1. Happy House
2. Tenant
3. Trophy
4. Hybrid
5. Clockface
6. Lunar Camel
7. Christine
8. Desert Kisses
9. Red Light
10. Paradise Place
11. Skin                                             

Happy House was a quirky hit single, with a slightly Chinese-sounding guitar intro and some Far Eastern percussion before rolling drums and decidedly sombre post punk guitars add to the odd, beguiling mix. This was quite inventive stuff for 1980. Listen to the instrumentation throughout this track, it is very clever. Siouxsie's vocal is also less punchy and more melodically detached and haughty. The old darkness and bleak lyrics were still there on songs like Tenant but this is balanced by the sheer imagination in both the musical delivery and the production. A haunting, vibrating Joy Division-style bass drives this beguiling track along. Trophy is vaguely punky and edgy, but slowed-down. It is post-punk but with a kick to it. Check out those unusually stark drums.

Hybrid manages to mix the mystery of the first Roxy Music album with Joy Division's intentionally dismal material. There sounds to be some Eno-esque keyboards or saxophones (whatever that wailing sound is) as Siouxsie meets her biggest vocal challenge thus far and passes. This is completely uncommercial stuff, yet it proved to be incredibly influential. Clockface is a quick minute and a half or so of punky riffs and vocal wailing.

Lunar Camel could have come straight off the instrumental side of David Bowie's "Heroes". Its keyboards are some of the deepest you will ever hear. It is all very oblique and enigmatic. In contrast, the lively, acoustic-driven and psychedelic-influenced Christine is a breath of fresh air. It was a hit single. I remember that at the time I had a girlfriend called Christine and though "great, Siouxsie's released a song I can think about my girlfriend to...", thinking it a love song. Hmmm. The lyrics went "Christine, the strawberry girl, Christine, banana spit lady...". Try as I might, I couldn't think of her as a strawberry or a banana split.

Desert Kisses is a very melancholy song, with hints of Talking Heads' The Overload from the same year's Remain In Light album. It is full of brooding atmosphere. Red Light utilises a thumping drum machine and an evocative synthesiser. Paradise Place is slightly more upbeat and catchy, just. Once again, its backing is supremely inventive for the time. Great bass line. Sioux's vocal is strangely seductive. Skin is a shuffling, slightly frenetic closest thing to the old punk material on the album.

Along with Joy Division's two albums, this was one of the most influential albums of the late seventies/early eighties. It was very ahead of its time.