Monday, 24 March 2014

Siouxsie Sunday: 'Anima Animus' by The Creatures

After Siouxsie and the Banshees split up in 1996, The Creatures (Siouxsie and Budgie's another band) were already composing material for a new record. The album, titled Anima Animus, is Siouxsie's first LP since 1995's The Rapture and comprises ten tracks. Leftover songs from the recording sessions saw the light of day either as B-sides for single releases or on Eraser Cut, an EP that heralded the actual album release.

The Eraser Cut served as a teaser of what was to come: while Budgie's percussion is still the driving force here, gone is the tribal feel of their previous LPs Boomerang and especially the highly experimental Feast. The Creatures had come up with a new sound that was less about exotica and more about electronica. Indeed, their new material was a fascinating blend of ominous synths and acoustic instruments, although Budgie's trademark marimbas still make occasional appearances. Another new element in a way was Siouxsie's voice: as seen in the live clips from the Banshees' shows during the mid-1990s, Siouxsie was occasionally struggling when performing their older material since her singing voice had started to show signs of change, deepening and lowering in register. These songs, however, were written for Siouxsie's changed vocal range so they showcase new sides of her distinctive voice.

While the soundscapes of their previous LPs reflected the surroundings where they were recorded in, their 1999 album Anima Animus sounds much more urban - namely for its  recurrent use of electronic instrumentation - although it was recorded in Siouxsie and Budgie's house in Southern France, where they had been living ever since the early 1990s. Still, the album opener "2nd Floor" is a pulsating synth-laden pop tune that could just as well be written in the neon-lit nights of London. The song sees bars as haven-like places where time doesn't matter and the storyteller would love to stay regardless of opening hours: "Aftermath in an amber glow / A vodka bath for this shipwrecked soul / Seconds fly as the years go by / But I don't care, I'm on the 2nd floor". "2nd Floor" was released as the lead single, between the Eraser Cut EP and Anima Animus. The music video has Siouxsie rocking a unibrow that'd put Frida Kahlo to shame.

However, it is the menacing "Disconnected" that properly demonstrates how the rest of the album will be like: it's dark, icy and yet, bewitching. During the Banshees' debut Siouxsie was titled as "The Ice Queen" by the press due to her frosty image, and here she sounds perhaps more glacial than ever before. Lyrically the song compares sudden misfortunes to an unpredicted winter storm: "Just when you're comforted / Just when you start to breathe / The winter pounces like a band of thieves", with positive emotions "starting to fade in Siberian land". It could also double as a handbook for serial heartbreakers: "Make the heart grow fonder / then obliterate".

And speaking of unpredictability, "Turn It On" is an ode to the uncontrollable and untamable forces of nature with Siouxsie singing about getting thrilled by "Hurricane and earthquake / Monsoons and tidal wave". Musically speaking it's a more typically Creatures-y (having strong emphasis on percussion with Budgie pummeling the drums throughout the track) as is the following song, "Take Mine".

"Say" is where the duo mellows down a notch. On "Say" Siouxsie expresses more emotion while singing personal lyrics that address the tragic suicide of a friend of hers, Associates frontman Billy Mackenzie: "I was feeling low / You called and you were too / We'd meet Saturday / It happened on Wednesday / You only had to say, it's sad / I would understand". The beautiful song was later released as the second single from the album; subsequently, a music video was shot:

While Siouxsie had already at that time had a remarkable career in music, she had also been recognised as a style icon ever since her daring punk years in the mid-1970s. This status was further solidified in the early 1980s (i.e. the Juju era) when a whole subculture adopted that trademark Siouxsie look: drastic eye makeup and jet-black backcombed hair. The Anima Animus song "I Was Me" seems to be the first time she's referring to this Siouxsie copycat phenomenon (which she herself considered confusing and even "frightening") in her lyrics: "Same lips, same hair, the same stare / When she laughed, she was sipping my favourite drink" before declaring: "It's not fair / I was me / and not she". The song itself - written in 3/4 time - is one of many excellent tracks that were written with a similar format during this era (electronic tunes with an acoustic guitar riff serving as the backbone of the song, with additional acoustic instruments as well): others include "Broken" (the first B-side of "Say") and a stand-alone single "Sad Cunt", which - song titles aside - represent the less aggressive and more easily accessible side of the group.

The eerie "Prettiest Thing" is a slowly growing track driven by Budgie's hypnotic percussion with appropriately eerie lyrics about razor's edges sliding in and beautiful violences coming in, as if it were a four-and-a-half minute vignette of an unearthly dream. Apparently the lyrics describe an out-of-body experience but they're rather cryptic, like most Siouxsie lyrics tend to be. Anyway, the song was then remixed drastically for a single release. Although it can barely be recognised as the same song, the remix is more suitable for a single release - the original version is much more of a grower, taking several listens to unfold.

Then, on "Exterminating Angel", all hell breaks loose. Some songs on the album might be menacing but this is nothing short of downright evil. In the best of ways, that is. Siouxsie channels her savage anger into throwing biblical plagues around ("Swarms of angels / come to kill your sons", "Hordes of locusts / blot out your sun") while singing about an apocalyptic world where there's "nothing but black holes / where the stars should've been". Phew, you'd do wisely not to mess with her. The song, a collaboration with trance group Juno Reactor, is easily one of the most memorable tunes from the album and a fierce powerhouse of a track. Funnily enough, whereas for me it was the ultimate soundtrack for my teenage angst moments, I've seen some darkwavers describe this as one of their favourite dance floor anthems. Well, to each their own, I guess.

"Another Planet", the penultimate track, is a surreal number where Siouxsie paints images of a bizarre planet with mysterious space live forms seeping from the walls, crawling, sprouting all over her and blossoming and what have you. Coming right after the scary monster that is "Exterminating Angel" is not an easy task but "Another Planet" is an exquisite, mesmerising space journey to an otherworldly planet or, as put by her, "another fairytale with a twisted end". It's also got both incredible instrumentals (seriously: the outro is one of the most captivating Siouxsie moments out there) and a flawless vocal performance, profiting enormously from Siouxsie's newfound voice. A definite grower.

There's lot of peculiarity going on on this album so the unsettling "Don't Go To Sleep Without Me" is a fitting ending: it's a spooky, haunting tune with lyrics that could be interpreted in many ways but I see them as describing a woman's plea to her husband to not die without her: "Don't you without me / Don't you go and leave me here". If sleep is a metaphor for death in the song, then her husband is already dying: "Sleep dust on your eyelids". Touching, but in the context of this song, equally creepy. Both "Another Planet" and "Don't Got To Sleep Without Me" have been used in movie soundtracks: the former was reworked by the aforementioned Juno Reactor and was featured in the 1998 sci-fi film Lost In Space, while the latter made an appearance on the official Blair Witch Project soundtrack in 1999 (although none of the songs on the soundtrack actually appear in the movie).

Anima Animus marked yet another reinvention for both Siouxsie and The Creatures, and it's a triumphant one. This musical direction was exceptionally thrilling - even when compared to the Banshees' legacy - and the duo wrote some of their best stuff during this era. Even the B-sides were top-notch, and the Eraser Cut EP had a couple of gems as well. As a matter of fact, some of those songs were even better than the album tracks: I find "Turn It On" and "Take Mine" a little lacking both sonically and lyrically compared to the rest of the record. (Now if only the latter were just a bit more hypnotic, then there'd be no problem with it.) So, if the two tracks were to swap places with say, "Slipping Away", "Guillotine", "Broken" or another "Say" B-side, "All She Could Ask For", this'd be a five-star album, hands down. Nevertheless, it's a spectacular record that could be described as Siouxsie and Budgie's beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy (even more righteously so than the Kanye album, mind you!). Anima Animus sounds sinister, electrifying and wicked and it's one of Siouxsie's finest LPs in all of her incarnations.

4½ / 5

Try at least: "I Was Me", "Another Planet", "Exterminating Angel"

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