Top positive review
Still Highly Original, Nearly 40 Years On
on 31 August 2017
I must admit I was slightly surprised by just how fresh, certainly (still) original and consistently good Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1978 debut album still sounds. I remember (cassette) taping many of these songs from the original John Peel sessions at the time and, unlike many other albums of the period, Steve Lillywhite’s production here stands up very respectably in comparison with the ‘live feel’ of the radio recordings. Alongside the consistent song quality, the other thing that stands out for me is the power of the band’s playing and sound generally. There was always an argument that the mesmeric playing of John McKay’s guitar and Kenny Morris’ drums might have a relatively short 'shelf-life’ – and, of course, this proved to be true, their replacements John McGeogh and Budgie, in effect, reinventing the band’s sound barely a year later – but, here, any reservations are well and truly consigned to the bin, as it is McKay and Morris’ playing, plus Siouxsie’s searing vocals, that provide the band’s most memorably distinctive qualities. Even now, it’s difficult to quantify quite where the band sprang from, sound and influence-wise – as Nick Kent said, perhaps a kind of Can-Velvet Underground combo. And, as for the band’s future influence, almost everyone (of note) seems to have name-checked them, with (for me) Joy Division being perhaps the closest comparator.
Song-wise, everything here still resonates. In keeping with the 'punk’ ethos – even if the band were about as far from being 'one-chord wonders’ as you could get – youth disaffection (particularly as it applied to the band’s suburban roots) is to the fore on Jigsaw Feeling, Overground, Carcass, Mirage and Suburban Relapse ('I was washing up the dishes, minding my own business….’). Specific issues inform Metal Postcard (the noted anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield), Nicotine Stain (smoking as a proxy for a wider malaise?) and Hong Kong Garden (a Chinese take-away on Siouxsie’s patch – Chislehurst), whilst there is also a stunning cover of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter. The album probably finds the band at their most commercial (unsurprisingly) on the two singles added to the CD re-issue – Hong Kong Garden and The Staircase Mystery – however, the album closer, Switch, also contains a sublime melody, is one of the most sophisticated songs here and is something of a pointer to the band’s subsequent incarnation. My only minor criticism of the album would be the omission of the song (a personal favourite) Love In A Void. Nevertheless, a band, and album, well worth revisiting.