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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju (Polydor, 1981)

As bands being covered on this blog go, they don’t come much bigger than Siouxsie and the Banshees, all the more impressive for a girl who started out life as a hanger-on with the Sex Pistols, and part of a social clique that would become known through the writings of journalist Caroline Coon as “The Bromley Contingent” and which also included a very young Mr Billy Idol who would go on to form Generation X.

The full history of The Banshees is far too well documented to be worth repeating here. Suffice to say that The Banshees started out as a punk band performing a virtually impromptu gig at the 100 Club in 1976, moved swiftly into post-punk and later into a style of their own right that would last until their dissolution after The Rapture (Polydor, 1995). Somewhere in the early period however, the band would become terribly influential to the nascent Goth scene, not least due to Siouxie’s make up and hair, but also their sound which would go on to lend so much to the bands that would follow in their shadow.

Juju stands out from the rest of The Banshees’ catalog however, in that rather than being content with merely influencing the new crop of post-punk gothicness, they actually decided to jump briefly on the merry-go-round for a quick ride themselves. Freed of the raw fire of earlier numbers like “Love in a Void”, Juju presented the listener with something much more sinister and bleak. Of course everyone is familiar with the singles “Spellbound” and “Arabian Knights”, but is really on other tracks like “Halloween”, “Night Shift”, “Head Cut” and “Voodoo Dolly” that the dark brilliance of Juju really shines through. “Halloween” is especially interesting, not least for how closely the guitars would resemble those used by Christian Death on Only Theatre of Pain (Frontier Records, 1982) around the same time, but also for its lyrics:

 “A sweet reminder,
In the ice blue nursery
Of a childish murder,
Of  hidden luster…
…I wander through your sadness,
 gazing at you with scorpion eyes

Head Cut” makes for similarly fascinating listening with instrumentation eerily predictive of the sound bands like the brilliant X-Mal Deutschland would emulate in the not too distant future.

Good heavens - could that really be Mrs Smith's little boy Robert on
 guitar in this one? Why yes, I do believe it could.

The Banshees appear to have been a little ambivalent where their lasting legacy was concerned, on one hand proud of their degree of influence, while at the same time perhaps less than fond of their strange offspring. Liner notes on Mick Mercer’s compilation Gothic Rock (Jungle Records, 1992) quoting Banshee’s manager Tim Collins make for an enlightening read:

 Many thanks for your wonderful offer to be included in a cavalcade of goth-geek. I’m frankly amazed that some of the bands you’ve listed have actually agreed, however, I can understand why others have. I’m afraid we will have to decline this wonderful opportunity on the grounds of Mick’s comment that Siouxsie and the Banshees weren’t part of the Goth movement. We’ll just have to hope that our exclusion from this project won’t reflect too badly on us.

Track listing:
1. Spellbound
2. Into the Light
3. Arabian Knights
4. Halloween
5. Monitor
6. Nightshift
7. Sin in My Heart
8. Head Cut
9. Voodoo Dolly

Line Up: Siouxsie Sioux (vocals, guitar), Steve Severin (bass), Budgie (drums, percussion), John McGeoch (guitar)


  1. Awww . . . you didn't pic my favorite from the album (and fave SatB track, to boot): "Monitor." I really need to get to know them better.

    Trivial fact:

    Steve Albini used to have a column in Matter magazine in the early/mid-1980s. In the October, 1984 issue, he wrote an article about his favorite guitarists. Of the 17 he wrote about, three were SatB guit slingers at some point: John McKay, John McGeoch, and Robert Smith.

  2. I tend to think "Monitor" is a very good Siouxsie song, and intriguingly predictive of both the type of material the band would move into a few years later and also of the new "Big Brother" zeitgeist that Western societies now increasingly find themselves. In terms of contribution to the Goth cannon though, I don't think that song has that much to say, hence its omission.
    Conversely, some of my favourite Siouxsie numbers like "Cities in Dust" (Tinderbox, Wonderland, 1986) got passed over, although they may have had something to contribute to Goth in themselves, the albums they appeared on probably didn't. Oh well.