Monday, 11 November 2013

Siouxsie Sunday: 'Feast' by The Creatures

The John McGeoch era of the Banshees (Kaleidoscope in 1980, Juju in 1981 and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse in 1982) is seen by many as a golden age for the group. Indeed, the Banshees created some of their most essential work during that time, most notably the Juju album which helped to carve out a whole new genre. However, as Siouxsie herself once said during her Dreamshow concert, nothing lasts forever - and especially the good things. The Banshees had hard luck with guitarists, even with McGeoch, their most celebrated one: he was struggling with alcoholism and once even collapsed onstage during a concert. He was subsequently hospitalised and soon after, fired. Robert Smith of The Cure was re-recruited as a guitarist, something he had done already back in 1979 after the band split up while promoting Join Hands.

After finishing the tour, the band members engaged in separate side projects: Siouxsie and Budgie as The Creatures and Severin and Smith as The Glove, a psychedelic music project. Siouxsie and Budgie decided to select the place where they'd record the first Creatures LP by randomly placing a pin on a world map. They ended up recording the album in Hawaii and absorbed a lot of influences from the local scenery while writing the songs there. The Creatures' debut EP Wild Things proved that the duo was anything but predictable, and the statement was further strengthened by their highly experimental Feast LP.

Siouxsie and the Banshees were going through a thriving phase in their career both creatively and commercially, but The Creatures weren't riding on the coattails of the Banshees' success. On Feast the duo picked up the tribal, percussion-driven sound they first invented on Wild Things and then continued to develop that distinctive sound, for example by incorporating Hawaiian influences, such as Hawaiian chanters. And from the very opening moments of the album you know you have absolutely no idea what to expect from it. Featuring an eerie vocal intro, "Morning Dawning" quickly turns into an almost lullaby-ish tune with the calming sounds of wind chimes and waves hitting the shore. The atmosphere is tribal and spellbindingly primitive. Fun fact: the vocal intro is in fact taken from the Banshees track "Painted Bird", but turned backwards.

The influence of the environment where the duo recorded the album is evident. More than an album in the traditional sense, Feast feels rather like a trip, like a journey on an uncharted, distant, tropical island. "Inoa'Ole", Hawaiian for 'no name', for instance paints vivid pictures of camp fires and people sitting in while passing on stories and myths that have been passed on for generations after another, with its chanting Hawaiian singers and Siouxsie's hum-like, non-lyrical vocals. The same native villagers can then be imagined celebrating some kind of a tribal festivity in "Festival Of Colours" or dancing around in a frenzy to the thumping "Sky Train".

There's more than just downright tribal music on the album, though. Siouxsie amps up the creepy factor in "Ice House" with disturbing incest-dealing lyrics, apparently based on some TV play. The playful, marimba-led "Gecko" sees the duo abandon all grimness and just have fun on the pleasingly care-free track about the titular animal: "Giant sized flowers, giant sized bugs / Giant sized gecko is making his path". The song also namedrops the band's own name while describing the jungle life: "Creatures crawl and creatures call / All creatures great and small". It's just always great to get some lighthearted Siouxsie tracks every once in a while as she and Severin always tended to have a rather dark sense of humour.

Then there is obviously the twisted lead single "Miss The Girl", another marimba-driven tune. The lyrics were influenced by Crash, the 1973 novel by English author J.G. Ballard about car crash sexual fetishism - yes, the lead character gets aroused by car crashes. Despite that, the Creature classic actually makes a really fun singalong song, but then again the lyrics aren't nearly as overt with the morbid debauchery as the original story. Needless to say, the novel was controversial back in its day and so was the song: apparently its promotional music video received an unofficial ban from the BBC, probably due to its S&M imagery and the violent nature of Siouxsie and Budgie's portrayed relationship. Go figure. Funnily enough, the song peaked at #21 in the UK singles chart nevertheless.

Feast establishes The Creatures as a highly unpredictable duo who would defy genre limits and expectations throughout their career. Yet people tag music such as this album with the dreaded goth label, just because it's Siouxsie. I mean, seriously: who in their right mind can listen to "Gecko" and then decide it's goth music? Beats me. From the wailing of "Morning Dawning" to the spoken word delivery of "Flesh", the record also shows Siouxsie adopt a range of different kinds of styles to utilise her unique vocals. And perhaps even more importantly, Feast serves as a manifestation of what a brilliant musician Budgie is, proving that he is far more than just your average drummer. As a matter of fact, all the instruments on the album are played by him, while Siouxsie's penned the lyrics.

The duo had an undeniably brilliant artistic chemistry, and the record is an audacious experiment that feels like an aural equivalent of a tropical expedition.  At the same time, it's hardly an easy album - it's not a conventional pop album with a dozen of tracks written in a 3-minute format. It's not an album you put on when you want to dance or sing along to infectious melodies. Its greatness is not blatant and obvious but rather hidden and layered. But more importantly: is it worth listening? Well, it most certainly is. The atmospheric album filled with organic soundscapes and tribal percussion does admittedly need a certain state of mind to truly open up, but when it does open up, you can just shut the world outside and fill your mind with exotic imagery provided by the album. Like with most ambient albums in general, the downside is of course that the songs might not necessarily work outside the context so well. After all, this is the type of music where songs flow into each other, forming an inseparable stream of sound and imagery, instead of being some single-oriented, radio-friendly stuff.

As I've mentioned earlier in the series, the duo got their name when they were told that their music sounded like something the creatures in Where The Wild Things Are would dance to, and on Feast they certainly live up to that. This is an intriguing album to be listened to when you feel like getting intrigued.

3 / 5

Try at least: "Miss The Girl", "Morning Dawning", "Inoa'Ole", "Gecko"


  1. This is one of the best Siouxsie articles I have ever read. Extremely well informed.

    1. Gosh, what a wonderful thing to hear - thank you very much! Being a huge Siouxsie fan, I love writing about her music and try my best to keep it good and worth reading.