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Album review

Siouxsie’s sketches

SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES: "Kaleidoscope" (Polydor 2442177)

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.- PAULO HEWITT.

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