Release Year: 1986
When Robert Smith left Siouxsie and the Banshees after the recording of their sixth album, the band recruited John Valentine Carruthers and worked on their most ambitious project. The Banshees, never satisfied sticking with their sound, changed things up here even more so than they had before. While the songs still had Siouxsie Sioux’s brand of dark lyrics and clever wordplay, the music was more lowkey and took a backseat to let other elements of the music come out. The result was a quiet album filled with fierce songs.
Things start off with the deceptively cheery “Candyman.” The music is light and kind of upbeat while Sioux sounds sensual as she sings “Oh, trust in me, my pretty one/Come walk with me, my helpless one.” While the music gives you this sense of feeling good, you know things aren’t right with lyrics like “Sickly sweet, his poison seeks/For the young ones who don’t understand/The danger in his hands.” First, it seems to be about a dangerous man. While this is the case, the story grows darker at the end when children are brought into the picture. Turns out it’s about child abuse, more specifically a pedophile who lures children into a sense of comfort before harming them. It’s one of those sneaky songs you’ll gladly sing out loud, until you realize what it’s about.
This dynamic between light music and dark lyrics continues on most of the album. Another example is the irresistible “Cities in Dust.” This is probably the band’s catchiest single to date with the simple chorus and the dance inspired music. But the track is actually based on the tragic volcanic eruption of Pompeii, which destroyed the city and killed many citizens. As always, Sioux paints these horrific and grim images with her clever songwriting: “Hot and burning in your nostrils/Pouring down your gaping mouth/Your molten bodies, blanket of cinders/Caught in the throes.” It’s a song that grows more disturbing the more you learn about the horrific event. Funny enough, this is the song that got me into the band. I had no idea it was so chilling when I first heard it.
While “The Sweetest Chill” doesn’t seem as dark and bleak as the other tracks, it sill has its share of grim lyrics: “Fingers like a fountain of needles/Shiver along my spine/And rain down so divine.” This shows how talented Sioux is as a songwriter. She manages to put together two images you would never think of and make it into something haunting and chilling. On this track, it also works to create this cold mood, which is emphasized by her haunting coos at the beginning. Even though it has an icy vibe the guitars are light and create this sort of whimsy to the music. It’s a great song that shows how powerful the Banshees are even if the music isn’t front and center. But that’s what makes this album so likable. The shift away from the music allows the listener to catch other things going on, such as the lyrics and atmospheric noises.
“Cannons” has guitars that flow prettily even though the song itself is a bleak look at a city caught in a war while “Lands End” shifts tone several times throughout the track. It begins like most of the other tracks, very light and atmospheric, before delving into a frantic pace that sounds like it’s running away from something awful. The music goes back and forth between these two sounds while the track works toward its climatic end. “92 Degrees” also has this light, pretty music that puts you at ease until the music picks up and the singing sounds more desperate. After the second verse, Siouxsie starts wailing making the whole thing sound delusional and creepy. It’s a another stellar song with its only fault being the length.
The only time the band gets loud and unchained is on “This Unrest.” It begins like many of the tracks here, subdued and lowkey with a creeping bass line and light percussion. But after the first verse the music gets intense and sounds psychedelic. This is the only track on the album that seems them going back to their punk rock roots as things get heavier as the song goes along. Towards the end everything speeds up and sounds wild as Sioux sings “hey, hey, hey” as if everyone’s losing control. Its mysterious, dark, and awesome just like the band itself.
Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. This finds the band pushing their sound in a different direction that still manages to show their best ability. The Banshees love changing things up and do so the best on this record. It may not be as intense as their other material, but the darkness and haunting matter that creeps into their songs is all there. It’s one of those albums you really have to spend some time with to appreciate it.