Monday, 3 February 2014

Siouxsie Sunday: 'Boomerang' by The Creatures

After Siouxsie and the Banshees had released their 1988 masterpiece Peepshow and finished with the subsequent promotion tour, the band decided to take a break. This, of course, was not to say that they'd take a complete year-off from the music biz, but rather simply signified another resurfacing of Siouxsie and Budgie's experimental side project The Creatures.

Ever since The Creatures came to be, it was clear that the project was never intended to rival the Banshees, but rather just provide the duo with a means to fulfil their more experimental side. (The Creatures did find their own success: their debut EP Wild ThingsFeast single "Miss The Girl" and stand-alone single "Right Now" peaked at #24, #21 and #14 in the UK singles chart - with the latter staying in the charts for 10 weeks! - while Feast itself peaked at #17 in the UK album charts.) So apparently even the eccentricity of the Banshees wasn't enough for the two of them! That's how the project came to be in the first place: their debut EP was inspired by a leftover demo from the Juju sessions. While Juju was arguably a rather tribal album, the demo track "But Not Them" took the tribal feel to another level, consisting merely of vocals accompanied by percussion.

Boomerang was The Creatures' first LP since 1983's Feast, a tropical experiment characterised by the duo's distinctive percussion-driven sound. While Feast was written and recorded in Hawaii, which was reflected in the soundscape of the album, for the creating process of Boomerang they rented a stone barn in Andalusia, Spain. Stylistically there was a lot of development in the duo's sound: both the range of the instruments they used and the influences they drew from broadened. They incorporated brass arrangements (in the vein of "Right Now") and experimented with exotica with amazing results. Fun fact: the artwork for the album was photographed by Anton Corbijn (who's done everyone from David Bowie and Depeche Mode to Björk and U2) and while he became famous for his black-and-white photography, the Boomerang era pictures he took of The Creatures marked the first time he chose to photograph artists in colour.

The environment does again show in the material they created. The album is kicked off by the ferocious lead single "Standing There" through which Siouxsie's vocals strut mercilessly savaging her victim, the patriarchy that mistreats women. Standing up for oppressed and disenfranchised women is a theme that recurs in Siouxsie's lyrics, and it is relevant here once again: "We ignore all their calling, ignore all their taunting / Ignore all your problems of self hate and loathing / Somebody should show them where to go". Budgie's thunderous pounding of the drums is equally merciless while the brass section gives the song a passionate Southern Spanish tinge.

Another song with a Spanish feel to it is the brilliant "Manchild" with its flamenco hand claps (or palmas). It's tragic lyrics tell the story of a little Columbian boy who's caught up in a feud between his village and another village with the latter killing the whole male population of his village. The boy was the only one left until he too was assassinated while he was on his way to school. "I walk in boots too big for me / The women do cry as they watch over me / I work at the altar, I try to be good / But just like the others, I'll soon travel in wood", sings Siouxsie about the boy's predestined fate. So heartbreaking. (By the way, I once saw someone post a link of this song on Tumblr saying how Santigold reminded him/her of The Creatures in the sense that you could basically replace Siouxsie's vocals with hers and it would work perfectly as a Santigold song. Considering she has listed Siouxsie as an influence, I kind of can see what the person meant.)

"Killing Time" is a haunting bluesy number that has Siouxsie adapting the role of a traditional torch singer. Lyrically it describes a woman's longing for her partner and how without him she's just killing time, awaiting his return. "If the sun went out, I wouldn't mind too much / Who needs the days to trouble to fill?" is an especially beautiful line. Budgie imitating the ticking of the clock is another fine detail. The song was later covered live by Jeff Buckley.

"You!" is a playful moment that has Siouxsie experimenting with her vocals - whistling and monkey voices ensue. The equally fun single "Fury Eyes" in its original suit sounds like it could be directly off the Lion King soundtrack with its frolicking instrumentals, even despite its less than cheerful lyrics: "A love that's lost always returns / to feed the fire of the heart that burns". The song was then remixed for a single release, and a music video was shot.

Boomerang shows that what it came to The Creatures, experimentality and playfulness went hand in hand. Take the laid-back "Strolling Wolf" or the brass-led "Untiedundone", for example - the duo was making music that was something they hadn't done before and, most importantly, had fun with it. "Willow", which is actually about the death of Budgie's mother, features a harmonica hook, while "Speeding", which sounds like slowed-down ska music, is driven by an accordion. The song also name-checks the album title in its lyrics: "Bad pennies return from whence they came / It all comes back like a boomerang" before launching into the humorous "boom boom boom bo-o-o-om" outro. Another fun fact: the accordion player is in fact Martin McCarrick who had actually joined the Banshees during the Peepshow era after collaborating with them both on The Thorn EP and the cover album Through The Looking Glass.

An exception from the otherwise very organic-sounding sound (and perhaps a hint of what's to come) is the electronic duo of "Pluto Drive" and "Solar Choir", which segue into one another. The former is a twisted take on environmentalism whose witty lyrics paint a picture of Pluto as the perfect haven for the mankind where "children are heroes and death is high camp". In hindsight, the song also works as a love song to the abandoned ex-planet. (Perceptively enough, the song only refers to Pluto as "the prettiest star" rather than a planet.) Siouxsie sings how she wants to take "an unleaded dream drive to the prettiest star" but ponders if she should wait "'til the world turns to meet its plutonium fate". 'Plutonium fate' is not only a play on the (ex-)planet's name, but presumably also refers to the Cold War and the balance of terror between the West and the Soviet Union. Thus, the Pluto of the futuristic song can be understood as an unreachable imaginary utopia where everything would be better, purer and more peaceful, even though the song acknowledges it's "cold and it's damp", with "oceans of methane and petrified grass". It is then followed by the ethereal "Solar Choir", where Siouxsie faintly chants "Here I am", indicating that she's already there, in space, perhaps in Pluto.

The album closes on a mellow note. First comes "Venus Sands", a dreamy but unsettling tune about the natural cruelty of nature (so to speak) with its lyrics depicting children tearing up flowers ("Where children played, a flower lays / pulled and torn up by its roots / And where it stood, the empty place just screams") and seagulls hunting for hatching baby turtles ("Down on the flats, baby turtles race / for safety of the big deep / and white caps come, crashing in / indifferent of tender flesh"). The song features sounds of shrieking seagulls and crashing waves, and captures candidly how unforgiving the world is out there in the wild. To finish the record comes "Morriña", a beautiful, soft track that feels like an aural equivalent of a pleasant daydream you could have in the shade of a fig three, with the sunlight filtering down through the branches and the warm Mediterranean breezes caressing your skin.

Boomerang is by no means a short album - with 16 tracks, it clocks at over 56 minutes. At the same time, however, it's a very complex album with diverse imagery and musical experimenting. Whereas Feast could, despite its intriguing idea, feel occasionally unfinished and even a bit unfocused, this is The Creatures recreating that idea and mastering it in the process. (On a side note: wow, first Peepshow, now this... the late '80s sure were a wonderful time for Siouxsie fans!) Boomerang is an exquisite album whose sun-kissed jazz-pop will have you snapping your fingers to Budgie's beats and singing along to Siouxsie's ever-mesmerising vocals. Or you could also dance to it: two of the songs have been used on So You Think You Can Dance. 

Feeling like you've had enough of the winter already? Has the darkness and the coldness gotten the best of you? Forget about light therapy lamps, vitamin D supplements and expensive vacations in the sun - Popheaval prescribes you a weekly dose of Boomerang to keep the winter blues away!

4½ / 5

Try at least: "Standing There", "Manchild", "Pluto Drive", "Killing Time", "Venus Sands"

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