Siouxsie and The Banshees
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
I recently had a discussion with an esteemed colleague about the annoyance in classifying late-'70s alternative bands. There is, in my mind, an overwhelming gap between punk and the ubiquitous label "post-punk." Very often, as is the case with London bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees (and as we've already listened to, The Slits), being "punk" merely meant being friends with the Sex Pistols, and being "post-punk" was what happened after you stopped being friends with them. The Banshees clearly didn't put much stock in the "punk" label either, as its fourth album "Juju" demonstrates.
Released in 1981, "Juju" found the band on the verge of another emerging English trend: goth rock. As we've already seen with Bauhaus, goth specialized in melodrama with a sense of lurking horror. Susan "Siouxsie Sioux" Ballion was a more natural fit for the goth scene than she was with punk, whether she intended or not. Aesthetically, she was notorious for her thick eye makeup and wearing S&M garb during performances. Although punk is a very image-conscience genre, it does so in a less outright fashion than goth. I don't want to suggest that talented vocalists don't belong in punk, because Lord knows I hate the three-chord stereotype the genre has come to represent, but her voice is what I imagine Eleanor Audley (voice actress for Maleficent in "Sleeping Beauty") would sound like singing, seems too highbred for a genre as raucous as punk. The shift towards "post-punk" was fitting for her.
Thankfully, the band didn't submerge itself in goth altogether. Although Siouxsie's voice would be ideal for such a performance, the album's early and more popular tracks merely flirt with the darkness. Single "Spellbound" and the following number "Into The Light" are occasionally ominous, but nothing to scare a mainstream audience away. When songs like "Halloween" and "Monitor" appear, moaning and lyrics like "trick or treat" are delivered with a Tim Burton approach to horror, not a John Carpenter bloodbath. The Banshees are more similar to the secretly-happy Cure than Bauhaus. "Sin In My Heart" also suggests the influence of Joy Division, which had just released its two critically-acclaimed albums prior to the release of "Juju."
That's just the story for the better tracks on the album however. Siouxsie and the rest of the gang give in to peer pressure in some of the album's latter tracks. She demonstrates how adept at screeching she can be during "Head Cut," and guitar dissonance and slides replace riffs during the closer "Voodoo Dolly," along with the echoing effect added to Siouxsie's voice.
Just like the album falls between punk and goth, it also falls somewhere between the goth bands most people can identify with. I would take The Banshees' lack of melodrama over Bauhaus any day, but the band never merges gloom with pop sensibility quite as well as The Cure, which isn't a slight.
INTERESTING FACT: Siouxsie married the band's drummer Budgie (yes, the same guy from The Slits, who I admittedly did not give enough credit to during this post) in 1991, a year prior to the group disbanding, which makes it the first breakup caused by a marriage and not by a divorce (they divorced in 2007, just in time for a reunion tour. I'm serious).