Aug 252023

SpellboundThe return of Siouxsie Sioux to the stage this year was as welcome as it was unexpected. Her not performing in public for the past decade did not mean her fans had forgotten her. Some folk have never abandoned her signature look, and people born long after she had her biggest hits could be seen with that look in British cities and beyond during the interregnum. The music never went away, the originals on repeat and lots of cover versions. Cleopatra Records have assembled an outstanding list of devotees to pay homage in the well-timed tribute Spellbound.

There is a tendency to look at Siouxsie and the Banshees, driven by Siouxsie and Steve Severin, with dark purple lenses.  But that can neglect the breadth of their achievements. To wit:

  • The first iteration of Siouxsie’s pre-Banshees band had Billy Idol and Sid Vicious in it and fitted with the punk ethos of the day.
  • The infamous moment when the Sex Pistols let loose expletives on prime-time TV started when presenter Bill Grundy made a clumsy pass at Siouxsie.
  • One classic lineup of Siouxsie and the Banshees was a driving guitar band, expertly produced by Steve Lillywhite, who later developed U2 and Big Country.
  • Their biggest hit in the UK was an audacious cover of “Dear Prudence,” chosen as Robert Smith (filling in between iterations of The Cure) knew the melody.
  • By the time of their only (!) hit in the US, 1991’s “Kiss Them for Me,” Talvin Singh’s tabla rhythms were in the mix, before a wide swath of artists adopted the sound.
  • Many miles away from the center of the action for pop, in a town just outside of Glasgow, the Jesus and Mary Chain showcased art school antics and developed the shoegaze sound, citing the Banshees as a significant influence.
  • The Banshees had a prototype trip-hop song as early as 1983.

Of course, on this site we are interested in their history of covers, and here too the band excelled. Their 1987 Through the Looking Glass album gave insight into their influences and heroes. These were not in punk but in classic pop and rock, heavily featuring those artists who presented a whole package of music, visuals, and attitude. Siouxsie performed with Iggy Pop just this year, which went better than when she performed with Nico in the ’70s. In the video for “The Passenger,” Siouxsie and the band were clearly larking about, comfortable where they were and with each other.

Siouxsie’s influence was very broad across genres and artists, and female artists have consistently expressed gratitude just for Siouxsie’s existence as a trailblazer and icon.  From her first recording, Siouxsie called the shots, rejecting her label’s choice of producer, and choosing one that better reflected what she wanted to do. That first single was a hit. Did that make it easier for the next generation of highly talented women to get their vision expressed?  You can only hope.

The female voice leads in Spellbound, but the music is highly varied. We have already expressed our enthusiasm for Night Club’s “Cities of Dust,” a dancefloor filler for the late evening. Vive La Fete pay tribute to Siouxsie’s Belgian heritage with a jaunty Gallic take on Christine and Black Nail Cabaret give a clear reading of “Happy House,” whilst retaining the element of threat that the song needs.

That the latest iteration of Nouvelle Vague make an appearance is not a surprise. Early ’80s electronic pop is their hinterland.  What is surprising is that their take on “Night Shift” is not lounge Bossa Nova with a hint of parody; it is something new and outside our experience of them, which is fantastic.

Longtime Banshee Jon Klein joins his post-pandemic collaborator Jah Wobble take on “Monitor” with industrial glee, managing to outmuscle Skold (which is unusual) who take “Peek-A-Boo.”

What about the covers? Here we have two covers of covers. Thankfully neither darkwave specialists La Scaltra, who take “Dear Prudence,” nor Xiu Xiu, on board with “The Passenger,” operate solely within the parameters that Siouxsie set, allowing them some freedom to come up with something new and interesting. They both take that opportunity.

Overall, Spellbound is a welcome augmentation to the Siouxsie and Banshees legacy, and covers a wide range of the bands moods, rather than just the purely dark ones.

“Spellbound – A Tribute to Siouxsie and the Banshees” is available on Bandcamp.

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