Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

Throughout my discoveries of punk, I found myself becoming more and more welcoming to atmospheric and ethereal plays on the traditionally abrasive aesthetic. Inevitably, I think this starts for everyone at Joy Division’s now infamously commercialised, though indisputably brilliant, Unknown Pleasures and its utterly soul-destroying successor Closer, which is probably even darker and arguably even better than Unknown Pleasures.

This is not to say they are particularly easy listens – I think Joy Division are a worryingly fitting soundtrack to general adolescent indifference and unjustified hormonal angst, but when I listen now it can sometimes be just too much to handle.

The same can be said for The Cure’s Pornography, which 16-year-old me automatically plunged into after learning the first line of the album was ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die’. This is symbolic of a sensationally disturbing and admittedly pathetic insight into my outlook on impending GCSE exams and unwarranted frustration at the world from which I had been served a grand total of zero injustices. Certainly, Pornography is a thumping serving of majestic misery, but still proves a growingly challenging listen as time goes by.

However, gothic rock has still always held an appeal to me, and two albums stick out in my mind as the most accomplished albums of the sort. Firstly, Faith by The Cure, which is so gloriously depressing and funereal, and then, the subject of the article, Juju by Siouxsie and The Banshees (hereby referred to as Siouxsie).

I was made conscious of Siouxsie’s presence from my parents, who believe they were at the same gig in Hammersmith sometime around 1980 before meeting each other formally in the 1990s. And they say romance is dead!

It’s clear Siouxsie weren’t of the traditional punk ilk. Even from their debut The Scream, much of what we consider goth had been seamlessly incorporated into a more intricate take on punk’s less sophisticated form.

Kaleidoscope was the turning point for me, from awareness to adoration. The song ‘Red Light’ was the oppressive hit of darkness that allowed me to fully enter the gloomy Siouxsie universe, while ‘Skin’ is just a barrage of pure unapologetic gore – wonderfully murderous.

My first encounter with Juju couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when I was embracing goth and all its offerings longingly. What was also more exciting for me was John McGeoch’s starring role as lead guitarist, his first full contribution to a Siouxsie album after minor credits on Kaleidoscope. Being a huge fan of Magazine, McGeoch’s previous group, this was music to my ears (quite literally).

The singles preceding the album were exceptional. Though not on the album, but mentioned simply for its brilliance, ‘Israel’ is a soft-goth anthem which is probably my favourite Siouxsie tune of all. Followed by the powerful ‘Spellbound’ and then the wonderous darkness that is ‘Arabian Knights’, it was clear that even before the album, Siouxsie were on the top of their game.

The latter singles mentioned make up two of the three opening tracks, fabulously interrupted by the expertly crafted ‘Into The Light’, which seems a bit more sombre than the other tracks on the album. The level of musicality is unparalleled for the rest of the tracks, however this is more due to the fact it becomes a punkier album when explored further.

And this is epitomised by the following songs ‘Halloween’ and its successor, the unbelievable ‘Monitor’, which is five minutes of rampant McGeoch-driven chaos. When Juju first came out, My Mum said she used to annoy my Grandad by playing ‘Monitor’ at full blast in her room, which I’ve been guilty of doing myself many times to her. It starts off relatively tame, if you can describe Siouxsie in such words. However, by the two-and-a-half-minute mark everything is ramped up a level, the guitar gets higher, the singing turns to and organised array of shouts, and the hits on the drums become a relentless onslaught on the ears. Sublime.

And what about ‘Night Shift’! I’d say this is the most gothic song on the track, taking a lesson from The Cure on low, droning guitars backed by frail, chilling vocals – very Faith-esque. The moment of silence between the verse and chorus is just utterly, utterly brilliant. Even ‘Sin in My Heart’, yet a simpler song, is equally as punchy, but with a tad more pace and zing.

The album closer, ‘Voodoo Dolly’ is as crazy goth as it can get. It’s a similar vibe to The Cure’s seminal Disintegration, but holds a higher degree of gloominess and a lesser degree of loveliness. It grows into a cacophonous frenzy, reeking with raucousness. A fitting ending track indeed.

Unsurprisingly, Juju is one of the most acclaimed albums both of the time and in the goth arena. I think the adjective ‘timeless’ is thrown around too much and sensationalises many an undeserving album. However, I think Juju, and most of the Siouxsie discography as a whole (apart from their quintessentially 80s cover of ‘The Passenger’), is timeless. There’s something strangely accessible about Juju, yet something still very idiosyncratic and independent from other records.

For me, it’s the perfect blend of post-punk and goth, and epitomises a band at their most artistically confident and powerful. McGeoch is vital to the skilful craft and creation of the album, while Severin’s bass is, as ever, a wonderfully subtle but essential support act. All in all, an album that must be listened to again and again – it is simply brilliant, and was another eye-opening discovery for me.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #5 – Public Image Ltd

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