Sunday, 18 August 2013

It's Siouxsie Sunday!

Now, if you're reading (and hopefully also following) this blog, the chances are that you are a music lover yourself. And if you're a music lover, it is highly likely that you have a favourite band or a favourite singer too. That one artist or act that will always have a special place in your heart, the one whose music you'll always return to, time after time. I most certainly do. And that musician is Siouxsie Sioux.

Siouxsie, born Susan Janet Ballion, is an English singer-songwriter, who's most famous for having been the frontwoman of post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees. With the Banshees she recorded 11 studio albums between 1978 and 1996. Even though the '80s revival in the mid-2000s wasn't quite as favourable to Siouxsie as they were to many of her peers - such as Joy Division, The Cure and The Smiths - and no such hype was built around the Banshees, she's every bit as iconic as the frontmen of the aforementioned bands (Ian Curtis, Robert Smith, Morrissey). Widely recognised as one of the most significant British rock singers - especially of the female ones - she has had a huge impact on other musicians, and has been praised and considered influential by everyone from Radiohead, U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers to PJ Harvey, Santigold, Gossip and Shirley Manson of Garbage, not to mention the previously mentioned Robert Smith and Morrissey or Tricky and Massive Attack - post-punk had a great impact on the trip-hop movement. Quite some names right there.

However, though invading the Top 40 on a regular basis during the Banshees era, Siouxsie is criminally underrated and overlooked by most of the present-day media. What for is beyond me. Maybe she is and was considered threatening in the male-dominated world of music journalism because of her formidable public image. But she's also known for not liking excessive promotion too much, so in addition to the journalists' ignorance, another reason might be her own reluctance to feature on the pages of the magazines. "I just want to do what I do, and leave me the fuck alone." she once stated, in a joint interview with Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters, another admirer. She's no Liam Gallagher, that's for sure.

Anyway. Starting from next week I will be introducing and reviewing her entire back catalogue of studio albums - be it with the Banshees, its splinter group The Creatures, or solo - in chronological order. Ooh, I'm so excited! Hopefully you guys get something out of it as well. In order to make it easier for you I've compiled a little playlist for you to listen to. It consists of 15 (because in this case, 10 is not enough and 20 would be exhaustive) Banshees tracks that I'd advice a first-time listener to listen to as Siouxsie's music might not be the easiest one to dig into. See how helpful I am?

1. Hong Kong Garden

"Hong Kong Garden" is the first song the group written and recorded after finally landing a record deal as one of the last bands of the first wave of punk. The song however is not punk anymore, and represents the then-evolving post-punk sound. It's very poppy and easily accessible and quickly peaked at #7 upon its release. The band decided not to include the hit single on their forthcoming debut album, though, which is a rather bold move. You might have heard this before, actually, in the Sofia Coppola directed Marie Antoinette.

2. Switch

The last song from their debut album The Scream, "Switch" is an epic closer for the sonic adventure that the album is. The song and its complexity shows the band's ambitiousness that was there from the beginning. Sounding gloom and having opinionated lyrics, the song is a typical Banshee classic.

3. Israel

Now this one's a song I've mentioned before, in the Nouvelle Vague article. Another instant Banshee classic with murky sound and trademark cryptic lyrics. "Israel" is Siouxsie and the Banshees at its best - the song, though seemingly simple and uncomplicated, is one of their deepest. One of my personal favourites as well.

4. Spellbound

Like "Israel", "Spellbound" is also one of the most common fan favourites. A frenetic post-punk stomper from 1981 that people have been jumping to ever since its release, it still has a special place in Siouxsie's touring repertoire as a climactic fan treat.

5. Fireworks

"Fireworks" marked a new era for the Banshees - an era where they started experimenting with new kinds of instrumentation, most notably strings. And they nailed it straight away. It was released as a wonderful stand-alone single after 1981's rock-oriented Juju and the following year's experimental art-rock record A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.

6. Dear Prudence

Siouxsie and the Banshees' version of "Dear Prudence", a Beatles song, became one of their biggest hits, peaking at #3 in the UK singles chart. They really made it their own and it sounds almost nothing like the original. Which in this case is a brilliant thing. Beatles is, after all, one of those bands that if you wish to cover them, you have to do it properly. The Banshees did.

7. Dazzle

Another number with string arrangements, "Dazzle" is a stunning song with once again cryptic lyrics and Budgie the drummer's pounding beats. An essential Banshee classic.

8. Placebo Effect

In 1984 Siouxsie and the Banshees took a handful of their older songs and re-recorded them with string arrangements. The 4-track result The Thorn was then released as an EP. "Placebo Effect", originally off their 1979 album Join Hands, became a prototypical '80s tune with its revamped instrumentation. Some would call it gothic rock, I necessarily wouldn't.

9. Cities In Dust

Having included the song in my previous '80s playlist, you might already be familiar with this song. In case you're not, it's a classic post-punk anthem from their 1985 album Tinderbox. Another track and another album people are too eager to tag with the word "gothic".

10. Scarecrow

This is one that I really, really love. It's an album track from their 1988 album Peepshow - an album they considered their personal favourite. It's like a gloomy interpretation of a Grimms' fairy tale with lyrics such as "My so-called friends say you're not alive / I'll bake their bones for telling lies / Then pull the pastry from the pie / And pour the gravy in their eye". I also had this song in heavy rotation during the angstier days of my teenage. Good times.

11. The Last Beat Of My Heart

This is one of those songs that prove that Siouxsie isn't all death imagery and fire and brimstone. The Banshees are at their most emotional with this tender ballad between two lovers. It's actually even better live.

12. Kiss Them For Me

This is the sound of the Banshees going pop. Uh-oh, sounds dreadful, doesn't it? But it's not, it's delightful. The song is a majestic pop song and a song that helped them break through in the States. A song that is a mixture of Bhangra influences and the Beatles at their trippiest. Fun fact: Talvin Singh, the percussionist who can also be heard during the bridge, went on to collaborate with the likes of Björk, Madonna and Massive Attack.

13. Shadowtime

Another single released from the Banshees' 1991 "pop record" Superstition, "Shadowtime" might not be the band's strongest or most iconic track but to hell with it, it's a lovely feel-good tune that feels refreshing after all that post-punk gloominess that the Banshees often draped themselves into. Siouxsie's also looking stunning during this era.

14. Not Forgotten

An album track from their much-bashed last album The Rapture, "Not Forgotten" is a brilliant song nevertheless. It's got Budgie's amazing drumming, Siouxsie's trademark lyrics, great instrumentals, everything that you can ask for. The song was also used in Showgirls, a cult classic movie from the mid 1990s.

15. Face To Face

The incredible "Face To Face" was co-written by Siouxsie and the Banshees and Danny Elfman for the Tim Burton directed Batman Returns in 1992. This one's a dramatic story about a relationship between two people with the brilliant lyrics referencing to the movie and the relationship between Batman and Catwoman - Siouxsie can even be heard purring at one point! The song is basically a four and half minute slice of perfection and one of Siouxsie's best.

So there you have it, now enjoy the music!

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