Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju – Round 16 – Graham’s Choice

File:Siouxsie & the Banshees-Juju.jpgNote to self: When suggesting theme in future, have just a little think about what options it leaves you.

Anyway, in the days after suggesting Triumphant 4th Albums, it looked like Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden was the obvious choice from my meagre collection. Something was niggling me to look further,  when this album occurred to me.  Back in 1981 when this was released,  I chose to ignore Siouxsie and the Banshees as post-punk art school nonsense. I was far too busy trying to decide whether to commit myself to the worlds of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and even Heavy Metal (15 year-olds deserve forgiveness for their musical sins). Probably around the same time in the mid-90s that I rediscovered Talk Talk, I began listening to some Siouxsie and the Banshees greatest hits and discovered most of the songs I really liked were on this album.

The imagery of the band in the early 80’s served as a deterrent to me, but listening to this album again reminds me of what I missed. If you want to dip in, just listen to Spellbound, Arabian Nights and Monitor (my favourite on the album).  Of course, I was unaware at the time of how celebrated John McGeoch’s guitar work on this album would become. The album has a grittier, harder and edgier nature than my image of the Banshees at the time, and the prominence and confidence of Budgie’s percussion and drums really comes through. The band’s reconstituted and more settled line up really shine through on this critically acclaimed fourth album (from wiki, so it must be true: In 1995, Melody Maker placed Juju as “one of the most influential British albums of all time”.  In 2006, Mojo honoured John McGeoch by rating him in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time for his work on “Spellbound“) .

It was postulated that while the imagery of the Banshees may have deterred some deserved attention at time of release, it was also possible that their back catalogue can unfortunately get sidelined with some of the less well regarded Goth rock that this album (possibly unfortunately)  may have inspired.  I’m not sure how much more I’ll investigate their back catalogue, but for me, this album seems like a peak (well with the exception of last track which doesn’t appear to fit with the rest of the sound!).

Tom Listened: Well, once again I had my preconceptions and prejudices challenged by a band that I had made my mind up on long ago.

1980 to 1983 was a lost period for me musically as I was living in the South Pacific at the time. Far from being a cultural vacuum, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Cooperation played wonderful music every night…but not that much by Siouxsie and the Banshees! On returning to Blighty it seemed as though the majority of the more lauded bands of the time (Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants) were past their best, releasing records that to my ears made me doubt they were any good in the first place. The first I would have heard of The Banshees was their horrible cover of one of my favourite songs by my favourite band at the time – Dear Prudence, of course. My mind was quickly made up – there was no way back in for Siouxsie after that!

At least, until Graham played us Juju. I really liked many of the songs on this album and John McGeoch’s guitar work is, as always, outstanding (calling to mind his work on Magazine’s wonderful Real Life). During the listen, I almost found myself forgiving Siouxsie for her past indiscretions…but not quite. The one thing that got in the way of my fully enjoying Juju was not the quality of the songs, the songwriting or the musicianship. I just can’t get past Siouxsie’s seriousness, her sombre earnestness and lack of warmth and humour. I have no idea if she takes herself seriously as a person, but it certainly seems like it if Juju is anything to go by, and it is a shame as I could easily have seen myself liking this as much as Real Life if Siouxsie had shared Howard Devoto’s playful impishness and twinkle of the eye.

Nick listened: Siouxsie and her colleagues are a complete musical black hole to me; theirs are names I know well, but up until Graham pressed play I didn’t really have an idea of what they might sound like. The fact that I was only born on 1979 might have something to do with this – and while I’m sure I must have heard something by Siouxsie and the Banshees at some point, I’ve never listened to them. So this was a pleasant surprise; thoroughly engaging, driven, and impassioned post-punk, lashed with interesting guitar textures and underpinned by a tight (if a little over-direct) rhythm section.

As Tom suggests, though, there’s a certain earnestness and seriousness to Siouxsie herself, at least on first contact, and whilst I have a sneaking suspicion that this would dissolve into the ether on repeated exposure, there’s just enough to keep me feeling stand-offish about her. The other album we’ve been played at DRC featuring drummer Budgie (Cut by The Slits) had an airiness and sense of fun that attracted me far more than this. Saying that, I was kept interested pretty much the whole way through, and heard a lot to admire here. Including the last track, which seemed to catch everyone else off-guard; was it not just common-or-garden final-song psychedelic wig-out territory?

Rob listened: Siouxsie and the Banshees leave a fairly well-defined hole in my collection. I went big for many of not all of bands immediately adjoining them: The Cure, PiL, Echo and the Bunnymen and was not at all averse to taking myself way too seriously in the early-mid 80s. Nonetheless, I think like Tom, I was always slightly repelled by Siouxsie’s voice which seemed to carry such artifice as to make the emotional core of their music all but impenetrable for me and I steered well clear of them. I liked the sound of the record, particularly the razor-wire guitars, and the voice seemed less of an issue. Glad finally to get the chance to become properly acquainted.

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