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What Went Right With… Siouxsie Sioux?

A caricature of Siouxsie Sioux by What Went Wrong Or Right With...?

From her voice to her clothes, hair, and makeup, Siouxsie Sioux has always looked and sounded different. Artists ranging from Björk, Florence And The Machine, M.I.A., to Sleigh Bells owe a lot to her; whether it’s their outward appearance, their alternative musical taste, or their vocal style, there have been many bands over the years that have been consciously or subconsciously influenced by Sioux. Whether you were (or are) an avid fan of New Wave, Alternative Rock or just someone who appreciates good music, I’m sure you’ll agree that Siouxsie is someone who has made mainstream music unique and interesting.

With a voice which has the power to sound beautiful, haunting, even operatic, effortlessly going from monotone to melodic, Siouxsie Sioux has a large body of impressive work. Although I’ll admit that not all of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ albums are flawless masterpieces (but then again, whose are?) there are always songs on each and every LP that not only stand out but stand the test of time. “Cities In Dust” for instance, is one of my all-time favourite songs, it is a perfect example of Sioux’ commanding voice which elevates what may have otherwise been a simplistic chorus into something spectacular and stirring…

In the late 1970s, Siouxsie And The Banshees’ first two albums were firmly alternative but by 1980, their third album shifted gear; they added synths, mellowed their sound and from that point onward, the group changed lanes and credibly crossed over to the mainstream. You can hear the difference between the gritty and unpolished “Nicotine Stain” from their debut The Scream with its monotone Punk-esque vocals to the slightly psychedelic “Tenant” and slightly spaced-out “Lunar Camel” in their later album Kaleidoscope.

Now I normally don’t champion artists when they change their sound but I have to say that from their third LP album onward, I’ve been a fan of The Banshees’ evolving style. Over the years the band has remained relevant, in fact tracks like “Into The Light” from Juju never seem to age. Safe to say that Siouxsie And The Banshees have over the years created a varied discography incorporating differing styles, techniques, and sounds. Even when the group made a cover record such as The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, they transformed what could have been a re-hash into something that felt individual…

As an example of the group’s variance, just listen to A Kiss In The Dreamhouse; there’s powerful vocals in “Cascade”, circus-like sounds in “Circle”, and then there’s the atmospheric “Obsession” with its dragging march beat. In fact there’s always change and experimentation in each album. One of my favourite songs is “Dazzle” with its orchestra intro and outro, coupled with Siouxsie’s echoing voice, it’s a perfect and powerful song that you couldn’t find anyone else doing at the time. The beautiful, slightly operatic “Belladonna” from Hyaena is also different from other music from the early-to-mid 80’s.

Tinderbox contains one of my favourite songs of all time – the previously mentioned “Cities In Dust” – with its incredibly catchy chorus. With Siouxsie’s vocals going from calm to compelling within a single bar, this unique vocalisation is now a Siouxsie Sioux trademark.

The album Peepshow is another LP filled with potent, emotive, and very memorable songs such as “Killing Jar”…

There is also the Jeepers Creepers-esque “Peek A Boo” with its accordion, reversed drums and samples, the end result sounding like a Freak Show plucked out of the Twilight Zone…

In the following decade, the band’s use of contemporary beats (for the time) and ethnic influences in songs such as “Kiss Them For Me” (from the album Superstition) brought the group straight into the 90’s…

And if you’re listening to Superstition, you should also check out the super-relaxed “Softly” which is almost akin to meditation music. Another one of my favourite tracks is “O Baby” from The Rapture. This is one of those upbeat and happy mid-90’s tracks but with the extra element of Siouxsie’s unique vocals, she transforms the two syllable word “baby” into something so wonderfully elongated – warbling and graceful at the same time. Along with “Forever”, this is the kind of cheerful song that transports you back to the 90’s every time you hear it…

Now of course, not all of Siousxie Sioux’ music is completely flawless. The Banshees’ albums sometimes start off flawlessly like A Kiss In The Dreamhouse but tracks like “Cocoon” with its lounge bar feel lets the album down. In addition, Siouxsie came back in the 00’s with a solo album titled Mantaray that felt a bit wannabe Depeche Mode. And since I’m being critical, another aspect of her career that can be heavily criticised is the oddly misguided yet obviously racist lyrics in “Hong Kong Garden”. The song was apparently inspired by Siouxsie disagreeing with the skinheads’ racist taunts at her local Chinese Takeaway but with the unfortunate line “Slanted eyes meet a new sunrise, a race of bodies small in size”, I can’t see how that alleged event is tackled in these lyrics…

Stepping back for a second, I’ll say that being a full-time fan of Hip-Hop, Grime, Reggae Dancehall, and Old-School Rave music, I can’t speak about other genres in the same way. I can’t for instance write about Rock music culturally as I didn’t experience it in the same way as I did Hip-Hop music; I wasn’t part of it. But, that being said, even though I’m an outsider to Blues, Rock, Metal, Soul, R’N’B, and other genres of music, I can still appreciate them. There are no real restrictions when it comes to musical tastes, if something speaks to you, it speaks to you, you can’t help but be attracted to it, and that’s exactly how I feel about Siouxsie Sioux. I have gravitated toward her music despite not listening to that much Post-Punk and New Wave.

Siouxsie Sioux has been relevant for three decades and that’s a great achievement. Her songs have simultaneously moved with the times but also kept a common thread throughout. Siouxsie kept her overtly experimental sounds for her other group The Creatures, the duo incorporating ethnic and world sounds into their music. With Banshees’ drummer and one-time partner Budgie, The Creatures also made some decent music, although their albums weren’t on the same level as Siouxsie And The Banshees’ offerings. The body-fluid-filled “Exterminating Angel” from Anima Animus and the brilliant drums in parts of WIld Things EP and Feast did appeal to me however and Budgie has over the years proved to be one of the best drummers in the business (just take a listen to “But Not Them”).

Siouxsie Sioux has remained both listenable and credible for countless years and that’s no mean feat. As the voice behind groups Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Creatures, she has proven to be distinctive, innovative, cool and with her trademark eye make-up and spiky black hair, she has always been on the right side of fashion and musical trends. Robert Smith of The Cure was lead guitarist for The Banshees for a couple of years, another group who was able to bring an alternative aesthetic to the mainstream. And on that note, it’s important to acknowledge that back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, styles and sounds which would otherwise be deemed “alternative” were openly accepted by the mainstream. Artists like Siouxsie Sioux looked and sounded avant-garde and yet they made it into the charts, the radio, and the TV. Siouxsie And The Banshees are the kind of mainstream band we desperately need today. During a time of overtly radio-friendly sounds and indistinguishable looks, Pop music needs a modern-day Siouxsie Sioux. Until that happens, I’d rather listen to music that was popular in the past rather than popular music of today. If you haven’t listened to any of her music, I urge you to. This is a perfect time to revisit Siouxsie Sioux, The Creatures, and Soiouxsie & The Banshees. They…

Dazzle.

 

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7 replies »

  1. You misinterpreted the point of Hong Kong Garden : in her lyrics, she always mixes the opinion views. if she relates the story involving different persons, one line says what the first person thinks or says, the next line gives the voice of character 2, the third line etc… in that song, she uses clichés and when doing this, she shows how petty the persons who uses these clichés, are

    • I disagree. There’s no narrative here or changing of perspectives. Granted it’s a blend of descriptions juxtaposing the real China with the English experience of the Chinese (hence going from Confucious to menu items) but the line I referred to is a description of a race by the group themselves. I doubt that skinheads would be so tame as to refer to Chinese as “slanted eyes” or “small in size”, they’d be much more offensive don’t you think? (I won’t give examples).

      Harmful elements in the air
      Cymbals crashing everywhere
      Reaps the fields of rice and reeds
      While the population feeds
      Junk floats on polluted water
      An old custom to sell your daughter
      Would you like number 23?
      Leave your yens on the counter please

      Hong Kong Garden
      Hong Kong Garden

      Tourists swarm to see your face
      Confucius has a puzzling grace
      Disorientated you enter in
      Unleashing scent of wild jasmine
      Slanted eyes meet a new sunrise
      A race of bodies small in size
      Chicken Chow Mein and Chop Suey
      Hong Kong Garden Takeaway

      Hong Kong Garden

      It’s still a good song though.

    • Severin once said that, in addition to the skinheads in the Chislehurst takeaway, Hong Kong Garden was simultaneously about cultural imperialism and that they’d deliberately used clichéd terms and references that Westerners used about ‘the Orient’, as a way to show how a culture was often reduced to a few stock clichés in the Western mind. He said that in 1978, though, when he was still trying to be big and clever…

  2. Siouxie and the banshees are incredible. I’m particularly fond of the first two albums.

    Have you ever seen the pictures of siouxie dressed up as a nazi? Will you judge her by the same yardstick you reserved for quentin tarantino and matt groening in your own inimitable self righteous and pompous style? The defender of every plight and self declared abbatior of good taste.

    Lol!

    • No you twat. Firstly I’m not defending Siouxsie, in fact I brought up her questionable lyrics in the article. Secondly, there’s a difference between doing something once and repeatedly doing something; a filmmaker making one film with racial epithets is fine but make non-stop movies where every character is screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger” and the writer/director making those films is arguably a bigot (Tarantino).

      On your point about Nazis, David Bowie said he supported fascism and also that Hitler was the first Rock star – that’s arguably bigoted – wearing a Nazi patch as a style accessory is hardly the same. Making a racist statement vs. borrowing racist’s aesthetics are two different things, backing up “racist” clothing choices with racist language however (Prince Harry) and that makes the person wearing it a bigot.

      If you can’t understand the difference, you’re an utter cunt and by the look of your sarky little comment, you’re either a regular cunt or a trolling cunt, I mean which fan misspells “Siouxsie”? And what pray tell is “abbatior”? Did you mean “abatoir” or “arbiter” you little tit?

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