Review Summary: Marquis Moon, Unknown Pleasures, and...
Siouxsie and the Banshees are an anomaly of a band. Influenced by glam, beginning with punk, later lumped into post-punk revolution of the 1980s which they helped engineer, all with a certain goth swagger and a female lead singer (a very rare feature for such a rock band at the time), they could never be categorized as commonplace or static. Their consistent career and their unmistakably singular style have influenced a great many artists from Robert Smith and Morrissey to Shirley Manson and PJ Harvey.
Fluffing aside, the flight of the Banshees begins here with The Scream…sort of. Previously, they had released a stellar and successful single “Hong Kong Garden” which somehow incorporated a xylophone motif into a fist-pounding, anti-racist punk song. They opted not to include it on the album perhaps because it would have been too flamboyant among its surroundings. Indeed, The Scream is a muddier yet similarly brilliant affair from a band that seemed to know what they were doing even though they had just begun.
The album begins with an interesting introduction to the band. Pure sports lonely guitar strums and barely audible plodding drums through which halfway in a choir of Siouxsies begin spookily yelling into the monotonous void. As if propelled by the rallying cry of Siouxsie, the album then begins to spring to life. Henceforth, the guitars only get more claustrophobic and nuanced and the drums begin pounding with greater intensity.
Siouxsie’s strong voice and the personality that comes with it are a staple and a common touching point for much of the album (and future albums). Her singing is a bit more unleashed than it would appear in subsequent recordings, and sometimes it hits a few sour spots. Then again, who really wants total precision in a punk-ish album like this? Many of the songs and the lyrics are dramatic and foreboding as they often were for the band, and here they are directed towards bombs, dismemberment, and the ills of complacent suburbia. Siouxsie matches the subject matter with her own uproarious singing doused generously among the chaos.
However, for all the attention Siouxsie gets, the Banshees were always an extremely tight and versatile band. Bassist Steven Severine, the only constant member here other than Siouxsie herself, along with guitarist John McKay wrote most of these focused yet varied songs. Jigsaw Feeling is full of uneasy discord. Carcass displays a sort of pop sensibility once the handclaps come in near the end. The guitar of John McKay can’t be understated either. Some songs like Overground and Mirage employ a jangly style which would make its way into later albums. Other songs have McKay roaring over quick-paced tirades. Others like Metal Postcard and Overground have him marauding as a strutting tough guy. All throughout, there is a messy, scorching feeling best exemplified by Helter Skelter. I suppose it’s fitting that they chose to cover The Beatles’s loudest, most frantic and maddening song. The Banshees do it justice and add the rhythmic push the original may have needed.
Despite the messy, manic nature of much of the album, Switch ends things in a more melodic note than what comes before, providing a breather from the ruckus and asserting that the Banshees have much more in them. With Switch, the band seem more focused on trying to create a more brooding mood to match the doomsaying going on behind Siouxsie’s mic. Siouxsie and the Banshees would eventually develop themselves more around this style, but as it stands, The Scream, through its late punk leanings, is a true progenitor of the post-punk and goth of the 80s and a fine album in itself. So…find your favourite cemetery, and have yourself a good dance.