Sunday, July 7, 2013

Siouxsie and the Banshees - Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope (1980) ***1/2

What a difference a major lineup change makes.  With half of their band departed, leaving only bassist Steven Severin and Siouxsie herself, the Banshees carried on by drafting a drummer (and future Mr. Siouxsie Sioux) named Budgie, and a pair of guitarists, one of whom used to be in a band called the Sex Pistols.  But it's ex-Magazine John McGeoch who's the real catch; in my review of Magazine's first post-McGeoch LP, I noted how drastic and unexpected a blow his departure was to that band.  One post-punk band's loss tis another's gain, and unsurprisingly given that this is essentially an almost entirely new band, the Banshees do sound like a completely different band.   That much is immediately apparent from the very start, as the guitars in "Happy House," chime gently rather than abrasively, ringing through a tune that's more melodic pop than grinding punk, and the attitude more becalmed goth resignation than punk indignation.  While the first two albums could rightfully be accused of being shot in monochromatic black & white, the music here explodes in colorful splashes as advertised by the only slightly hyperbolic LP title.  Such a drastic shift of direction was sorely needed after the disaster of the second album, and with the music opening up to a richer, more textured goth-pop rather than goth-punk style, the Banshees as we stereotype them have arrived.

It's not so much a transitional album as a full-blown explosion into a new style, yet the album does display a few niggling and naggling missteps into that new style.  Namely, the band seem so intent on exploring new sonic directions, lavishing so much attention on mood and texture, that they take a bit less care with the songwriting.  Tracks like the spare, bass-driven "Tenant," and the wordless rush of "Clockface," (the most energetic number, spaced-out big beat that's a bit reminiscent of the Police's "Regatta de Blanc") work most finely; "Lunar Camel," and "Desert Kisses," however, vamp on too dependently on atmospherics to cover up the thinness of the tunes.  With the exception of "Happy House," and "Christine," none of the album tracks leap out as potential singles material (and yes, those two were the actual singles, unshockingly).  The split-personality anthem from whence the album derives its name, "Christine," in particular is a classic slice of surging goth jangle.  Elsewhere, Siouxsie pursues her obsessions with the fragile human body and the perversity of its beauty-standard presentations ("Skin", "Red Light," and "Paradise Palace," which offers the album's most arresting lines, "Hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics / But this chameleon magic is renowned to be tragic").  Rather hypocritical lines to pronounce from the rouged lips of a person who pancakes her natural features underneath layers upon layers of makeup, isn't that?

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