Above, Siouxsie Sioux with producer John Cale, circa 1994.
Siouxsie and the Banshees -‘Through The Looking Glass’/’Peepshow’/’Superstition’/’The Rapture’ (Polydor)
These four re-issues mark the final four Siouxsie and the Banshees albums (eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh studio albums, if you’re counting). Released between 1987 and 1995, they came more than a decade after what was intended to be a one-off performance at the 100 Club in 1976. (Their line-up that night included Sid Vicious on drums and future Ant Marco Pirroni on guitar.) Bassist Steve Severin and Siouxsie Sioux would be the only constant members during the band’s lifetime, though drummer Budgie joined the group permanently in late 1979. They would become one of the most vital groups of the next few decades.
Through The Looking Glass was an album of cover versions released in 1987, with the band paying tribute to but also arranging the songs within in a striking way, that means that this album (coincidentally, one of the first records I ever owned, aged ten) has dated extremely well. Sioux and Severin had met at a Roxy Music concert in the mid-seventies, and so it’s fitting that Roxy’s ‘Sea Breezes’ appears here. The big hit was their cover of Dylan’s ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ which had been popularised by Julie Driscoll. Perhaps most striking, even now, are the arrangements of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, with its New Orleans’ Jazz feel, and the brass added to their interpretation of Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’ which took the song to some place entirely different. Amongst the bonus tracks included here are a version of The Modern Lovers’ ‘She Cracked (Which makes you wonder what other songs may have been recorded for the project) and the longtime missing in action single ‘From The Edge Of The World’ which was released before the band started work on their next album. I do have fond memories of my Parents banging on the wall early one morning when I first put the version of ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ rather too loudly. (****)
The following year saw the release of Peepshow. The line-up had changed again, with John Valentine Carruthers being replaced by guitarist Jon Klein and the addition of multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick, who had played on Through The Looking Glass, and would later join Therapy?. For my money, this is actually the finest album that the Banshees ever released. Kicking off with the top twenty single ‘Peek-A-Boo’ the album gives free reign to utterly brilliant songs and arrangements which show that ten years after their first single and album, the band were firing on all cylinders. If the aim of Through The Looking Glass had been to rejuvenate them, then it more than succeeded. As well as the two other singles taken from the album ‘The Killing Jar’ and ‘The Last Beat Of My Heart’ the album featured album tracks amongst the finest of their career, including ‘Scarecrow’ ‘Ornaments Of Gold’ and ‘Scarecrow.’ Amongst the b-sides here is a beautiful version of ‘Last Beat Of My Heart’ recorded at the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in 1991. If you only own one Siouxsie and the Banshees studio album (Which is a pretty odd decision to make in my book), it really should be this one. (*****)
1991’s Superstition again opens with one of the band’s best known singles ‘Kiss Them For Me.’ It was a proper chart hit in both the US and UK, and featured a then unknown Tabla player named Talvin Singh. It was a great start to the album, but what dates this album – one of the lesser-rated albums in the Banshees canon, is the production work of Stephen Hague. Hague had worked with the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and New Order and so whilst able to bring leftfield acts to daytime radio, it really doesn’t seem to work well over the course of an entire album. That said, Sioux’s voice still sounded as good as ever, the line-up had held strong for another album, and the songs remain strong. It just feels a little more muted than a Siouxsie and the Banshees album really should. This re-issue features ‘Face To Face’ as one of the bonus tracks, yet another UK Top 40 single, which featured on the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns at Burton’s personal request. (***1/2).
The band’s final album, The Rapture was released in 1995. Mostly produced by the band, with production by John Cale on a handful of tracks it showed the band, nearly twenty years since their inception were still able to combine the ability to experiment with writing excellent songs. Though ‘O Baby’ sounds most unlike a Banshees song as anyone knew them, they’d proved by this time that they were still capable of surprising and challenging people with whatever it was they thought the Banshees were supposed to sound like. It’s not typical of the album as a whole, which features sublime title track clocking in at over eleven minutes long. Whilst it seems unlikely that the band conceived it as their swansong, it was not a bad place to finish a career that had begun almost by accident nearly twenty years previously. (****)
Within a few months, the band called it a day. They were dropped by Polydor who they’d been signed to the entirety of their career, and ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler replaced Jon Klein for the tour. Their split in 1996 coincided with the Sex Pistols announcing they were reforming. Whether this was chance or design, the Banshees gave the impression that they’d done it all on their own term from start to finish. Even their brief reformation tour in 2002 was not a rehash of the greatest hits but rather, the opportunity to revisit what they chose. Sioux remains one of the most strikingly individual performers ever, influencing artists as diverse as Morrissey, Tricky, PJ Harvey and Ana Matronic. There are those who would tell you that the period covered by these re-issues was a time when the band had long ceased to be relevant.
Ignore them. One listen to each of these re-issues (though I sincerely hope you’ll take many more) shows just how compelling Siouxsie and the Banshees remained from start to finish.
Through The Looking Glass, Peepshow, Superstition and The Rapture are re-issued by Polydor/UMC on October 27.
The performance that truly got me into the band as a ten year old – Top Of The Pops, January 1987.
18 months later, the band (with revised line-up) are back on Top Of The Pops, for a performance of ‘Peek-A-Boo’ that also mixes in the video (this wasn’t actually uncommon).
Mid 1991, the band appear on Top Of The Pops with a young Talvin Singh for yet another hit with ‘Kiss Them For Me.’
Their final top 40 hit ‘O Baby.’ This video is quite typical of what ‘Alternative’ music videos looked like circa 1995…