|KALEIDOSCOPE - ADVERTS/REVIEWS|
|Record Mirror 26/07/80|
SIOUXSIE - and whoever
happens to be in the current incarnation of the Banshees - don't invoke an
immediate positive reaction among many of the people I know. Maybe
it's because Siouxsie herself doesn't come across as the stereotyped
female singer (hooray!); she's not overtly "soft" or
"feminine", in the present acceptance of the terms. In
fact, she can seem quite cold, sharp and suspicious. Her defences
(if that's what they are, which I doubt) have formed her stage persona and
public image. All this would possibly be accepted by a male audience
prepared to overlook these peculiarities if she at least sang songs that
fitted the preconception of the norm (and that you could sing along
to). But she doesn't conform there either. I admit it's not
easy growing to love some of the band's songs. It's taken me six
hours listening (not all at once) to come to terms with some of this
Of the songs that reached me first, 'Happy House' is the most obvious, flirting with the commercially acceptable and coming through unscathed. It's one of the least fragmented songs on the album, held by a galloping bass line (by Budgie, who will be joining the band more or less permanently) and the nearest they get to a full sound. Their hallmark is a bleak sparseness of instruments, so for S & TB, this is quite a full production.
'Tenant' begins the surreal stage of the album, but is not one of my chosen tracks. Following, is 'Hybrid', which is, it's the vocals that make such a startling song: anyone who thought Siouxsie had the emotional warmth of an iceberg can hear themselves being proved wrong. Her voice has just got better and better - sometimes sounding a bit like Grace slick - and far from being chilly, it's clear and cool.
From there, 'Clockface' enters almost at a rock trot, aided and abetted by Steve Jones on guitar. his contribution isn't a flash of thunder and hail of fireworks, but I don't suppose he was meant to stand out like a beacon.
Next on, 'Lunar Camel' is another of the standouts. It has that eerie quality that haunts almost all of the album. The lyrics aren't Poet Laureate standard but maybe Sir J Betjemen doesn't have the Dali-esque nightmares. It's (again) the voice that paints the picture, underpinned this time by a deep church organ sound (described as "dromaderian" by its operative - Siouxsie).
You've probably heard 'Christine' already, as it's a chart song, so there's no point in going into great detail - an accessible song. In spite of the story it tells.
John McGeoch, ex of Magazine, makes a considerable contribution to 'Desert Kisses', providing guitar, sitar and string synth, but despite it all, the song didn't make a very strong impression on me.
'Red light' had more of a crackle, punctuated by the whine of shutter sliding on a camera. Severin uses synthesisers and a rhythm box for this track, adding to the mechanical mood. They haven't gone overboard on the synth sound; just used enough to supplement the shards of their style. That jagged approach comes across (at first) as pretty hostile, but the more you listen to it, the more feel at ease with it.
'Paradise Place' didn't dent me as much as 'Skin'. That's a rare, direct reference to current affairs from Siouxsie and Severin, condemning the cull of animals whose skins are sought for the glorification of rich bitches. As well as the sentiment expressed, it's a fine song.
Well, it took me a while - and a stiff neck - to appreciate this album. If you want to read the lyrics, you'll need a neck that rotates through 360 degrees, like Linda Blair's in 'The Exorcist', as all the words are laid out like tracks on the turntable. But you never thought this was going to be easy, did you?
from the ashes, bye bye blackheads, hello Budgie. From the splinters
came Kaleidoscope. Obvious to all that new ways of writing and working
had immerged through the necessity of the 79 split. And thank god for
Budgie, Morris was always so heavy, so plod, plod, thud, thud. The
introduction of Budgie's intricate drum sounds and the use of acoustic
guitar & synths before the synth explosion was genius. A lighter
touch, veering away from the verse, chorus, verse structure. Not so much
a concept as its predecessors, but still the Banshees highest UK album
chart placing at No. 5 in 1980.
Happy House's joyous, sprightly, drum driven sound is at odds with its themes of madness and suburbia, reminding me lyrically of elements of The Scream.
Pristine Christine, drum driven and acoustic, the subject matter a god sent gift for the lyrics.
Were the Banshees worried at this point? Two singles on one album, each being the opening track on either side? Smells of commercialism and pandering, but who can blame them?
Kaleidoscope is diverse like no other Banshees album. Desert Kisses is sublime in its structure and sound, waves lapping against the rocks, and whose divine inspiration was it to use The Sirens on backing vocals. It was only recently that I discovered that The Sirens weren't some three girl punk group outcasts, but verging on a diverse choir cast. Hybrid, that repetitive, hypnotic beat, that wailing sax!!!!
And did the Banshees take the synths on tour with them? Bollocks did they, they reinterpreted there own songs using their standard guitar, bass, drum sound, giving the songs new life. And after the meager amount of songs included on Join Hands, an abundance were to be found on Kaleidoscope (a couple of them fillers?).
The b-sides Drop Dead and Eve White/Eve Black would never have fitted into the more textural surroundings of Kaleidoscope, Drop Dead/Celebration being a bitter mouthful of bile aimed at the departing blackheads and Eve White/Eve Black being the perfect foil to Christine, originally intended to be a double a-side . And Trophy? Listen to it while playing Join Hands.
Nigel Grey, why drop him as producer after Juju? In my opinion one of the best that has worked with the band, witness on both this and Juju.
Though the words are as
usual garbled and low-lying, I could have sworn Siouxsie on this
album's "Hybrid" sang "I'm a horrid pain" and,
as a hard-boiled non-convert to the Banshees' cause of angst and
grind, the temptation was too much, I had to chuckle at the thought of
that accurate self-confession. Other than that, however, I've thrown
out the door memories of past Siouxsie horrors and approached
"Kaleidoscope" with a new, clean slate, duly hoping
that I'd have good reason to change my mind.
The truth is, I haven't found anything that suggests I should radically alter my opinion. That in itself is not saying that the Banshees' sound hasn't altered: it has, and more so than perhaps the singles "Happy House" and "Christine" would have you believe. In fact, those two songs open each side and, as unmistakably the two best tracks, overshadow the remainder of the album and reveal it glaringly for what it is, namely an unsatisfactory hollow texture similar to but several pegs in quality below both the singles.
In effect, it's this overall patchiness that at first attracted me to "Kaleidoscope" and made me warm to it as maybe a friendlier, more relaxed and more appealingly less slickly-rounded record than any of the Banshees' two previous albums. I drew in my mind comparisons with The Buzzcocks' "A Different Kind Of Tension", also their third album and, moreover, from the similar context of successful punk hit singles band forcing themselves to progress and open out a little, to break free from the very need to be successful product with all but perfect vinyl scores each time.
Up until the end of the first side Kaleidoscope's mistakes, its loose and overtly undynamic sparsity, led me to think that I'd be playing it a lot as the most human Siouxsie record to date. But the second side came, "Christine" outshone everything on it for miles, the low-key unforced fragility of the previous side now turned into a decidedly weak drone that spelt a disappointing album. And so I snapped off a star rating and "Kaleidoscope" slid down the scales from being "transient" and "imperfectly insidious" to being plain dull.
What went wrong? Well, the music doesn't sound shiny and ego-centred as it did before and however basic and unadventurous it may seem as criticism, the problems stem from the gap left by Morris and McKay. There is an almighty gap left, which Siouxsie's voice backed by Severin and a shakily impermanent lead-guitar spot (filled alternately by John McGeoch or, incongruously, Steve Jones or Severin or Siouxsie twiddling with synths) can't fill. The soul and guts of the Banshees has apparently been gorged away and what you're left with, Siouxsie's little ole heart, isn't enough simply because of the coldness and the covertness of that heart. Which leaves.... a hollow chamber of sound that's pieced-up into eleven ostentatiously short-sharp tracks that never quite begin to take off the ground before they're killed and the next song begins.
Most hollow and uninspired of all is the centre, the missing lead-guitar link. McGeoch, a talented individual, slithers around on "Tenant" and his own "Trophy" but he sounds a dicey, unsure Number Eleven batsman who either lacks the confidence or doesn't yet grasp the entirety of the music to try anything more substantial or striking.
Steve Jones, on the other hand, is an unfortunately not totally but nearly inaudible mess on "Clockface" and "Paradise Place"; the big lad's out of his depth. Meanwhile, Siouxsie's debut synth venture, "Lunar Camel", is play-it-by-numbers dullsville and the spaces left highlight the weakness of Siouxsie's lyrics which here stretch to the incredibly crass, "Fly me to the moon, get me there soon...."
"Kaleidoscope" is the work of half a band, you can almost spot the cracks that more sympathetic foils to Siouxsie and Severin would have filled and made more vigorous and altogether more satisfying. The music does have intent behind it, perhaps too much of it: what it aims for is, apparently, a much subtler Banshees' sound, more spacey, more insidious, less scorchingly steam-driven and left open to the benefit of a second or third careful listen. And it does work on the singles (if a little too contrivedly on "Happy House", surely the most unlovable catchy hit of the year). On the rest of Kaleidoscope's short bursts of music, however, it's an only very minimally effective ploy which isn't at all helped by the sterile, pristine production which is too ordinary and orderly a coating for so ordinary a set of songs.
For all the shambolic impermanence of the band, there's no edge here, no rough glints of feeling, nothing that draws you inwards. Too frequently Siouxsie appears to be writing songs for the sole purpose of making a display of writing songs. The closing "Skin" is, so we're informed, "a comment on the yearly seal-cull", something she should leave to Jim Capaldi or David Attenborough. "Clock Face" by the way, lumbering great S. Jones and all, bears a frightening resemblance to, of all things, The Undertones' "Hard Luck", enough of a comment in itself about the Banshees' current crazy directionlessness.
"Kaleidoscope" is easily the craftiest album title of the year! It hints, of course, at a broadening out in the music, a new opening, a change for width. The hard truth is, with the Morris-McKay departure as a tempting cause/effect element, the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees is walking a precarious line between dreams of gently adventurous progression and, what seems far more probable, a chronic dearth of ideas and a resultant sheer sluggish lack of inspiration. And that's too fine a line for even the coldest of cold-wave comfort."
2 Out Of 5
|Melody Maker 26/07/80|
Strange to think that, as the
Banshees’ contemporaries head off for the fourth or even fifth time in
the studio, "Kaleidoscope" marks only the third round for a band
who seem to have been with us forever.
"Kaleidoscope" follows hard on the heels of the essential, morale-boosting chart successes of "Christine" and "Happy House", both of which are featured here and deservedly so. "Christine", the story of the schizophrenic with 22 clashing personalities, was almost breathtaking in its simplicity. A strong steady drum, a running bass, a skillful acoustic guitar, and Siouxsie’s compassionate vocals, all evoke perfectly the song’s stark atmosphere.
"Happy House", with its nagging riff and liquid guitar, was great pop as well, everything moving together to form its own particular distinctive sound and tension. And now at last the album, which moves right away from the claustrophobia of "Join Hands" or the sometimes clinical feel of "The Scream".
"Kaleidoscope" is basically a series of sketches with each song trying to evoke its own particular atmosphere, time and place. Away from a band situation (viz Morris and McKay) the album sees Siouxsie, Steve Severin, and Budgie, with help from John McGeoch and Steve Jones, delving more into sound and it’s possibility than anything else.
"Happy House" kicks off side one before "Tenant" ushers in with a slow almost Public Image feel, but still totally unique to them. With Severin contributing electric sitar, amongst other things, "Tenant" tends to stay on one level, layering itself slowly but surely. "Trophy" is a McGeoch number with a recurring guitar motif and an exploration by Siouxsie’s lyrics of the usefulness of remembering past triumphs... "Dust gathers on mementos, dust gathers on proud moments, young voices grow thick and old, the cheers are distant, wearing thin."
"Hybrid" is one of the album’s longer tracks, meticulously constructed and performed, it tends to outstay its welcome a shade too long, while "Clockface" seems trite in its shortness and lack of lyricism, save for Siouxsie’s chanting. The side ends with "Lunar Camel". Slow, a trifle draggy, it doesn’t really move forward with characteristic Banshee purpose or direction.
Side two holds more substance. "Desert Kisses" boasts a great swirling feel of power and intent with Siouxsie’s voice reminding us of its unique quality. "Red Frame" is almost Human League but with more depth and darkness, than the aforementioned brand of lightweight pop, whilst "Paradise Place" and "Skin" are just classic Banshee pieces. Hypnotic, relentless and incisive, both feature Steve Jones on guitar, revealing a hitherto unknown side of the (s)ex-Pistol. "Paradise Place" also holds some great lyrics about the horrors of plastic surgery... "You can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics, but this chameleon magic is renowned to be tragic".
"Skin" starts slowly before developing into an epic of archetypal Banshees music, with Budgie’s drums fervent in their speed as Siouxsie attacks the horrors of culling seals for the pleasures of "fat women".
As the title implies, "Kaleidoscope" aims to give the listener exactly that. A kaleidoscope of sound and imagery, new forms, and content, flashing before our eyes. Undoubtedly a lot of the album is a success on those terms, but even after about ten plays it’s still hard to fully grasp "Kaleidoscope" as a concrete whole. Maybe that’s the fault. Or maybe that’s the beauty.