Monday, 4 November 2013

Siouxsie Sunday: 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' by Siouxsie and the Banshees

So, after a little break it's time to continue with the story of Siouxsie and the Banshees. After The Creatures - aka Siouxsie and Budgie - were done with their Wild Things EP, it was time to return to the recording studio with the Banshees. Throughout their early career they kept recording new LPs with quite a pace - from 1978's The Scream up until 1982's A Kiss In The Dreamhouse they released a new album every year. With that in mind, it's astonishing how effortlessly they kept on reinventing themselves, creating records that always were distinctively Banshees, yet simultaneously something new and fresh. But none of these reinventions were quite as radical as what they went through on A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.

While Juju was a return to the more guitar-oriented sound of The Scream and Join Hands, Dreamhouse recalls the experimentality of Kaleidoscope, incorporating a range of new elements, such as loops and string arrangements - a feat first introduced on the fantastic stand-along single "Fireworks" that, for one reason or another, was left out of the album. Indeed, the album has a very, well, kaleidoscopic feel to it, as it is like a journey through glistering colours and ideas, a theme perfectly mirrored in its Gustav Klimt inspired artwork (a personal favourite of mine, as a matter of fact).

At the same time, the drastic departure from the roughness and the gloominess of the Juju album can also seen as a statement against the pigeonholing that the group was experiencing at the time: the Banshees were fed up with being called "goth". And while the album opener "Cascade" would not necessarily sound too out of place on Juju, the next track "Green Fingers" immediately takes the album towards the new direction with something that I'd call the most extraordinary song ever written about gardening. Yes, gardening. But with its flute riff and stunning arrangements it is all very magical, even fairytale-like. Musically speaking, it also has the Banshees at their most uplifting (or at least, least gloomy), even evoking a strong feeling of sincereness and innocence which does not occur too often with their material.

"Obsession" is a gorgeous, equally magical story of an obsessive lover ("I broke into your room / I broke down in my room / Touched your belongings there / and left a lock of my hair"). Complete with bells and beautiful strings, the fateful-sounding dark song is one of the most unexpected tunes on the album. "She's A Carnival" and "Circle" continue with the more upbeat sound of "Green Fingers", with the former featuring a peculiar circus-sounding outro that segues to the latter. Although "Circle" does feature some highly disturbing lyrics about domestic violence and other bad habits that keep on passing from one generation to another, to another, to another. (Is it just me or could the opening lyrics "Pretty girl of 16 has fun and runs crazy / Ruined girl of 16, now a mother grows lazy" serve as a twisted intro to MTV's 16 and Pregnant?) Even despite the somewhat depressing lyrics about "The endless full circle" where history keeps on repeating itself, it does make an interesting, albeit weird listen.

The latter half of the album begins with "Melt!", a sensual number with lush instrumentals and somewhat risque lyrics about lovemaking: "So many blazing orchids burning in your throat / Making you choke, making you sigh / Sigh in tiny deaths". But yes, they keep it rather classy and no, it's certainly no taking-rides-on-disco-sticks rubbish we get these days (what on earth is a disco stick anyway?). It is then followed by the ferocious "Painted Bird" that, in my humble opinion, should've been a single - it would've made a wonderful music video for sure. As the title suggests, it was inspired by Jerzy Kosiński's 1965 novel The Painted Bird, a controversial book noted for its violence, that features a scene where the protagonist observes a bird catcher paint one of his captured birds with bright colours, then releasing it with the consequence that the rest of its flock would attack the painted bird, not recognising it and ultimately killing it. The song, while also dealing with deeper symbolism, refers to this particular scene as well: "On lead poisoned wings / You try to sing / Freak beak shrieks are thrown / At your confusing hue" before finally concluding "we're painted birds by our own design".

One of the biggest peculiarities on the album (in the best of ways) is the jazz number "Cocoon", the lyrics of which Siouxsie apparently wrote while high on acid. It is indeed a trippy little tune that could in all of its twistedness easily make an appearance on that Twin Peaks jukebox. Ending the album comes the string-tinged lead single "Slowdive", another song with sexual lyrics and unexpected instrumentals. Fun fact: the "oh my gosh" around 3:27 is not Siouxsie, but in fact a violinist sighing out of tiredness.

The album is truly a daring adventure that, in a hindsight, can be seen as a beginning of the Banshees' experimental period. Venturing into the realms of psychedelia and avant-garde, the band certainly steps out of its comfort zone and does that with spectacular results. The album might not come without flaws, but it's undoubtedly the group's boldest one. Dreamhouse sounds fantastic: mature but thriving, honed yet experimental. Same can be said about Siouxsie's vocals that, once again like on Kaleidoscope, are here given more space to evolve into a range of emotions, from the sultriness of "Cocoon" to the subtlety of "Obsession" and the softness of "Melt!", while still getting a chance to be commanding and merciless on tracks like "Painted Bird". This is the band in their prime, with tremendous artistic confidence. Now if only they had replaced "Cascade" with the stand-alone masterpiece "Fireworks", we'd have an even more amazing album in our hands.

4 / 5

Try at least: "Painted Bird", "Melt!", "Cocoon", "Obsession"

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