Juju (1981) ****
The band tried these tunes out in a live setting first as test runs, and that makes the crucial difference: while the studio hide-bound Kaleidoscope coasted a little too easily on sonic gimmickry and atmosphere, Juju offers much more immediacy and energetic rock power. It actually takes a step back from the previous album's eclectic adventurousness, recalling the black & white monochrome of the early Banshees - but like the cover, there are enough splashes of color to keep things from the curse of too same-samey. Sonically, it's essentially a jangle-pop album charged with electric punk intensity; moodwise, it's - well, what do you expect? Roses and peanut butter? It's dark and goth, duh. On the heels of the first Banshees Mk. II album, by their sophomore release they have confidently gelled into a tight, hard rocking unit, with Budgie's drums brewing up the right kind of tribal voodoo for Siouxsie to lay her improved (even tuneful....at times) vocals atop. However, it's John McGeoch who takes center stage as the star hero: his tinny, scraping, abrasive guitar finds a tone that manages to jangle and slice at the same time, and provides most of the meat & muscle & color for these nine tunes (not many keyboards this time - it's all straight guitar pop). The most underrated post-punk guitarist? Source of trauma for Howard Devoto for letting him go? The missing link between Andy Gill of Go4 and Johnny Marr (cited influence)?
Initially I slated Kaleidoscope as slightly superior due to its much greater variety, but the Banshee's gloomiest platter is also their most consistent - not a whole lot of filler here, with the notable exception of the closer, "Voodoo Dolly," which imitates a brooding Doors set-piece for seven boring and melodramatic minutes. The album begins exceptionally strongly with four commanding cuts in a row. "Spellbound," jangles like Grace Slick shaking tambourines around the campfire at dusk, which only goes to show that at least a certain segment of punks were just hippies too young to experience the '60s firsthand. "Into the Light," and "Halloween," are pulsating mid-tempo and pulsating punky rockers, respectively, both showcasing the propulsive rhythm section and McGeoch's chiming post-glam guitar cutting and droning. The single "Arabian Knights," soars on snaky Orientalist melodicism as the clear A-side; its protest against women, "Veiled behind screens / Kept as your baby machine," probably wouldn't fly in these politically correct times, no matter how politically accurate the feminist criticism actually is. I'm sure Edward Said published a theoretical dissection and protest in the Arab Studies Quarterly. Of the remaining cuts, only the moodily grinding, "Night Shift," (a six minute epic that actually works, unlike "Voodoo Dolly"), matches the standard of the first half; but while "Sin In My Heart," may be so overly minimalistic that one suspects a throwaway, it jingles as the most energetic track (Banshees do the Ramones?), and "Head Cut," has the most....interesting lyrics. As for, "Monitor," - well, it's sort of there. But it does have a great guitar tone - like the rest of the album. If you're at all interested in the band, this is easily the best place to get acquainted.