On their spare but striking debut album, England's Siouxsie and the Banshees deftly meld the edgy, death-rattle guitar and walloping drums of the best post-punk bands with the soaring vocals and shivery power chords of the oft-maligned early Jefferson Airplane. The Scream's sound, stark though fully realized (thanks partly to a most simpatico co-producer, Steve Lillywhite), is lent added intellectual dimension by a series of disturbingly ambiguous lyrical images that, in the best songs, can actually give one the willies.
"Carcass," for example, is a grisly tale of meat-locker love that obliquely depicts women as the eternal victims of romance: "Be a carcassBe a dead pork/Be limblessly in love." Equally tender is the schizy lament of "Suburban Relapse": "I'm sorry that I hit you/But my string snapped/ ... But whilst finishing a chore/I asked myself 'what for.'" Even the delightfully pop six-string chinoiserie of "Hong Kong Garden," the group's British hit single, is belied by an icy martial beat and artfully jumbled lyrics that mix glimpses of an Oriental takeout joint ("Leave your yens on the counter please") with disquieting references to the ongoing slaughter in Southeast Asia.
Throughout, lead singer Siouxsie-Sioux sounds thrillingly like a young Grace Slick, especially in the resounding "Mirage" (with atmospheric sax moans by guitarist John McKay) and the devastating metallic roar of "Jigsaw Feeling." And in the band's only cover, a searing revision of "Helter Skelter," when Siouxsie wails, "You may be a lover but you ain't no fuckin' dancer," the charm of the Beatles' dance-floor repartee suddenly seems long ago and very far away.
Siouxsie and the Banshees were the artiest of the New Wave groups that emerged in 1976 out of the roiling rock & roll scene that centered on London's 100 Club, which also spawned the Clash, the Damned and the Sex Pistols (to whom the Banshees contributed their original drummer, Sid Vicious). Now, several months after The Scream was released to critical acclaim in Europe, with the Pistols flamed out, the Damned a marginal joke and the Clash still struggling for a foothold in America, Siouxsie and the Banshees are finally getting a shot at the U.S. market. Their vehicle is a record that acknowledges the enduring power of the Old Wave, but yields not an inch in its assertion of the New. (RS 301)
(Posted: Oct 4, 1979)
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