The kind of beguiling, haunting aesthetic product that is all the more impressive for having been made in Siouxsie’s third decade as a recording artist
It seems surreal to think of Siouxsie Sioux making music in the 2000s. Though she has continued to make music—great music, even—well past the era that defines her (or rather, the era she herself helped define), it is hard to separate her from a certain moment. That said, when you actually listen to the music she made well beyond that moment—the ‘80s post-punk/goth scene—you find that she is unfazed by the tide of passing fashions, and has no trouble making herself at home in any era, as on Hái!, her final album with the Creatures.
Released in 2003, this album consists once again of Siouxsie on vocals and longtime collaborator Budgie on all matter of percussion, as well as synthesizer, piano and even lute. Guesting on the album are Leonard Eto on the taiko and Hoppy Kamiyama on something that is intriguingly referred to as “chaos tapes.” The album takes its inspiration from the couple’s travels to Japan, their engagement with its musical tradition and the work of Japanese filmmakers and writers.
Given the dominant percussive element on the album, Siouxsie’s vocals assume a percussive, chant-like form. The lyrics have a mostly incantational function here and are thus arguably less meaningful as actual words when compared to most other Siouxsie material. “Seven Tears,” a stand-out track, pairs her lower register with a subtly calibrated array of percussion and minimal synth work, just enough to provide a bass pulse throughout. The steadiness and control of Siouxsie’s vocals help anchor the sound, allowing the percussion to become chaotic without steering the song off-course. The presence of marimba work, as with other songs on the album, adds a buried element of dissonance that heightens the tension of the otherwise already taut compositions.
It is not exactly a flawless effort—“Godzilla!” for example, is a bit trivial, with lyrics that are, unfortunately, about exactly what you think they’re about. It seems like it must be a joke, but it appears not to be. This is a glaring instance in which the group’s fascination with Japan on this album leads them very much astray. A counterpoint to this is a track like “ Imagoró,” a highly theatrical, menacing song that lurches and buzzes and conjures much more of the genuinely monstrous than the song just mentioned. On this track especially, the digital drive of the synth-work meshes effectively with the more organic-sounding percussion.
The longest track on the album, “Tourniquet,” has an almost jazzy feeling, with Siouxsie’s vocals at their smoothest and loungiest and the percussion at its loosest. Again, however, the lyrics are not interesting enough to sustain the song’s nine minutes. On the other hand, the marimba-driven “Further Nearer” features what are perhaps Siouxsie’s most compelling lyrics of the album, a hazy travelogue through unspecified terrain, with the background percussion mimicking gradual footfalls.
Toward the end of the album, there comes another standout, the slow, gong-filled “City Island,” which lets the instrumentation retreat and places Siouxsie’s vocals front and center, harmonizing with themselves. This is the song that most effectively communicates what fascinated the duo about Japan’s landscape (and does so without being kitschy), with evocative koan-like lyrics whose impressionistic minimalism allows the imagination to conjure one’s own associations.
Overall, Hái! is no masterpiece, but it is the kind of beguiling, haunting aesthetic product that is all the more impressive for having been made in Siouxsie’s third decade as a recording artist. It would be her last album with the Creatures, and she and Budgie would divorce a few years later, in 2007, bringing an end to one of post-punk’s greatest collaborations.