Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Siouxsie and the Banshees Reissues

Five years ago, Universal Music Company was still doing right by one of its coolest properties, reissuing Siouxsie and the Banshees’ original albums since 2007 with remastered sound, bonus tracks, and nice digipak packaging. The pop-breakthrough Tinderbox had come out in 2009, and the transitional covers album Through the Looking Glass was next. Then the reissue campaign stopped. Banshee Steve Severin, who’d been involved in these reissues, claimed that UMC lost interest because there weren’t enough bonus tracks to accompany his band’s final four albums to justify reissue. The claim seemed like a sketchy excuse, but whatever. The bottom line was that we would not be getting remasters of Through the Looking Glass, Peepshow, Superstition, and The Rapture.

This was a drag, because these later albums contain a lot of great music. Through the Looking Glass is one of the few covers albums that doesn’t simply feel like a time-buying throwaway released while the band scrambled for original ideas. Covers of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Iggy’s “The Passenger”, The Doors’ “You’re Lost Little Girl”, Dylan and The Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” (dare I say, definitive version? I dare), and John Cale’s “Gun” (thank you, Siouxsie, for inspiring me to check out Cale’s records. They are wonderful) are totally essential entries in the Banshees’ catalog.

If the purpose of that project was to replenish Siouxsie, Steve, and Budgie’s creative juices, it did the trick. Peepshow is simply one of the band’s best, a killer fusion of their dark vision with a more lush production approach than they’d ever employed before. The psychedelic bump-and-grind of “Peek-a-Boo” sounded like nothing else in 1988 and it still sounds like nothing else today. Things like “The Killing Jar”, “Ornaments of Gold”, and the breath-taking “The Last Beat of My Heart” also suggested that Siouxsie and the Banshees could snatch the hit-parade brass ring if they really wanted it.

I guess they did, because Superstition came next in 1991. Overall, this bid for pop success is the weakest Siouxsie and the Banshees album since 1979’s turgid Join Hands but for totally different reasons. The group gives in to too many of the slick fads of digital pop production, which would really sound out-of-date when Nevermind arrived a few months later. There are several decent cuts, but the singles “Kiss Them for Me” and “Shadowtime” are the only essential numbers here. I should emphasize that they are really essential.

Fortunately, 1995’s The Rapture had material strong enough to transcend any production problems (and there were those: after cutting nine of the songs quickly, John Cale was hired to complete the project in a sparkly fashion that some thought didn’t fit with the older tracks. It’s really not that bad though). Not everything is superb— inverse to Superstition, the cute single “O Baby” is one of the less impactful tracks— but the powerful popper “Stargazer”, the brooding “Not Forgotten” and “Sick Child”, the enchanting “Forever”, and the epic title track are. Unfortunately, The Rapture also turned out to be Siouxsie and the Banshees’ final album. Not a bad way to go out, though.

Back to more fortunate matters, that 1995 issue is not the last word on The Rapture or Siouxsie and the Banshees, because UMC is finally resuming its reissue campaign after that long five-year lag. Through the Looking Glass, Peepshow, Superstition, and The Rapture are now reissued with all the perks of those other reissues (including the digipaks that were replaced with jewel cases for later issues of the 2007-2009 remasters). As Severin indicated, the bonus tracks are not overwhelming, but there is some great stuff to hear. Basically, each CD features one or two major exclusive songs and one or two remixes of numbers found elsewhere on the particular album. Through the Looking Glass rips with a b-side version of The Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked” that’s punker than most of the Banshees’ actual punk-era records, and a more driving, more percussive mix of the single “Song from the Edge of the World” than the one that appeared as a bonus on Tinderbox. Peepshow parties with a wild b-side salsa called “El Dia De Los Muertos” that finds the band once again stretching themselves into previously untraveled regions. “Face to Face”, an alluring single from the Batman Returns soundtrack, gives much needed additional substance to Superstition. The Rapture has a clattering demo called “FGM” that is the only thing on any of these discs that sounds like it could fit seamlessly on The Scream and “New Skin”, a snarly rocker from the Showgirls soundtrack of all places. The remixes are nice but there’s nothing you can’t live without.

Sound on the three earliest albums is a booming improvement over the tinny and flat original CDs. When “Kiss Them for Me” kicks in, you’ll think someone slipped a Led Zeppelin disc in the player by mistake. The Rapture already sounded really good in 1995, so any upgrade on this one is barely detectable. What is most detectable is how much of an improvement John Wilde’s clear and informative liner notes are over the pretentious ramblings of Paul Morley that wasted space in the previous run of reissues.

Get these new Siouxsie and the Banshees reissues on Amazon.com here:

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