Review Summary: Think about it as a post-Scream EP.
Join Hands is the oft forgotten album of Siouxsie & the Banshees (aside from their 90s work which mostly deserves to be forgotten), because it stands in the shadow of their other 70s accomplishment The Scream and isn’t quite comparable to what comes afterwards. As it stood back in 1979, Join Hands was still a welcome and exciting addition to the Banshees oeuvre. Second albums are often about expansion, getting hold of the good ideas of a debut and making them bigger while fixing the things that marred the first attempt and keeping a hand on experimentation. At least, that’s how Join Hands turned out.
Join Hands gets a slightly better production job than The Scream, and although it’s all still focused around the simple guitar/bass/drums setup, it feels fuller. There’s a greater variety of sounds and songforms here that the Banshees explore. The album starts with a bell chime. In fact, opener Poppy Day sounds like a tense and steady march into battle. The battle, in this case, would be The Regal Zone in which a saxophone and a tambourine get healthy use. Elsewhere, subtle sax flourishes and backing male vocals in Premature Burial bring unexpected life into the fold. Two cuts later comes a song driven almost solely by a music box and Siouxsie’s creepy, lost-girl cooing. They’re small steps, but notable and appreciated ones.
Once again where the album shines is in its guitar. McKay seemed to have a near total change in style from The Scream to Join Hands. He’s abandoned following tonality to become a relentless grinding force throughout much of the album. As a result, the music feels more volatile, angrier, and tense. In exchange, Join Hands isn’t as danceable as the prior album. It’s propelled by a persistent mood rather than a persistent rhythm.
The mother goose of uneasy tales and portraits continues recounting stories of mutilation, confusion, and paranoia, but she sounds a little more authoritative, like a commanding warlord (or perhaps warlady?). Siouxsie’s brand of doom-mongering has been expanded to take on themes of war and religion. Icon, one of the standouts here along with Playground Twist, sounds like a lost U2 song from the War era if The Edge dared to be more sinister. What’s really appealing this go around is that Siouxsie has found more command over her own voice. She has grasped a sense of melody which she uses to wring more tension out of these songs, but just in case, Siouxsie’s voice is pushed further back in the mix than in The Scream which she tended to dominate.
Honestly, Join Hands is every bit great as The Scream until The Lord’s Prayer comes. It’s a novel idea to put The Lord’s Prayer into a thrashing punk jam and then twisting it into paranoid refutation of God, but the execution, a 14-minute droning, directionless wankfest gets to be grating and trying of patience. It’s still interesting, but it’s not very enjoyable.
Join Hands is like the underbelly of The Scream. Less fun but more lyrically substantial, less messy (well, except The Lord’s Prayer) but more focused in its anger, less domestic but more broad and ambitious in scope. It’s an album less apt for dancing on graves and more suitable to staying home and loathing the powers of government and religion that keep making them. I guess the problem is that it’s still so easily lumped together with its apparent counterpart that it’s difficult to distinguish its own identity.
Luckily that would hardly be a problem in later releases.