Discography: Siouxsie Sioux: Join Hands

Discography: Siouxsie Sioux: Join Hands

A challenging, complex and original follow-up.

Join Hands is Siouxsie and the Banshees’ sophomore effort after the sensational splash of their debut, The Scream. Interestingly, rather than opting to up the kineticism, the band seemed to double-down on the darker and more complex elements of their sound on this World War I-inspired album. Starting with the sound of a bell, the dissonant screech of guitar and a firm, insistent beat, “Poppy Day” sets the tone for the album, its lyrics reading like something in between epitaph and lullaby, with Siouxsie solemnly intoning—“In Flanders fields/ The poppies grow/ Between the crosses/ Row on row/ That mark our place/ We are the dead.

The core of the album is John McKay’s guitar, which exploits its dissonant potential to great effect, layering more traditional rhythmic parts with cacophony, suiting the songs perfectly even when his playing sounds like two panes of cracked glass being rubbed together. Bassist Steven Severin serves up welcome counterpoints to McKay’s playing, and Kenny Morris’s drumming offers the right kind of “dead” pulse to complement the mournful, anguished sound.

Brutal, brilliant second track “Regal Zone” also features McKay on sax, reminding one a bit of the similarly-named Steve Mackay on the Stooges’ Fun House. Death hangs all over this track, which doesn’t have much in the way of melody going for it. Siouxsie’s lyrics are riddled with images of orbs, scepters, helmets, blood. “Old limbs hang in the torture room/ While old kings hang in the portrait room/ Their noble eyes gaze on the uneasy dance/ Of the squirming body on the marble plate”—this is not stuff for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Some of the songs—“Premature Burial,” for example—feature lyrics that verge toward a kind of self-parody, or, to put it more mildly, have not dated as well as some of the other material, though the music and Siouxsie’s vocals haven’t aged a bit. The same might be said about the 14-minute long “The Lord’s Prayer,” were it not for the intensity of the performance, like a punk-goth version of the Doors.

In terms of more famous material, the album includes two bona fide Banshees classics, namely “Playground Twist” and “Love in a Void.” The latter, included in the 2006 remaster of the album, is a straight-ahead punk scorcher, more “traditional” in that sense than much of the album. But it is catchy as hell and shows off Siouxsie’s talent for being able to craft a great pop hook whenever she so chooses. It also demonstrates how, deep down, the band remains indebted to rock ‘n’ roll roots.

“Playground Twist,” on the other hand, is a different beast altogether. With its off-kilter rhythm, bell sounds, saxophone and its haunting, sing-songy feel (befitting its subject matter), the song is one of Siouxsie’s most original pieces of songwriting. “Hanging from your climbing frames/ Swinging in the gallows/ Laughing with your buddies/ But you can drown when you’re shallow”—cruelty and innocence, bound by a careening, spiraling musical knot.

Fittingly, it is followed up by the lullaby “Mother/Oh Mein Papa,” which, depending on the kind of mood you’re in when you listen to it, has the power to sound truly scary. Few bands at the time had the courage to put a song like this on a punk/new wave/goth record, at least not many as well-known as Siouxsie and the Banshees already were at the time.

Upon revisiting this album, however, the song that surprises the most is “Icon.” Driven by the repetition of a few basic guitar chords, a minimal beat and a simmering thunder effect, the song takes 90 seconds to bloom into a marching, charging piece, melodic and moving, thanks in great part to Severin’s bass playing. Siouxsie’s lyrics are at their best, their most visceral and indignant—“Those words hang like vicious spittle/ Dribbling from that tongue/ Close your eyes to your lies/ Force feed more pious meat.” All this is fitting from a band that is itself both iconic and iconoclastic in equal measure.

It would have been easy for Siouxsie and the Banshees, post-Scream, to rest on their newly-acquired post-punk laurels and release a second album full of songs that reiterate the punchier, more easily definable (though no less exciting) moments from their debut. But they didn’t. They made a challenging, complex and original follow-up, which was itself a watershed in early goth music.

Unfortunately, McKay and Morris would leave after this album. But as we will see, the band was far from done reinventing itself.

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