Harder and darker than anything else Siouxsie and the Banshees would record again, Juju can be nearly suffocating in its ominous production and heavy-hitting bass and percussion.
Although members of the band would vehemently argue against the classification, Juju (1981) is the first (and likely only) time Siouxise and the Banshees truly went goth. The fourth LP in what would be a long recording career, Juju is where the signature elements of a Siouxsie Sioux sound finally began to congeal, from her art-damaged vocals to John McGeogh’s splintered guitars to the tribal beats the singer and her drummer (and future husband), Budgie, would explore in their Creatures side project, into a gothic stew that the band never attempted to replicate thereafter.
But while Siouxsie’s three prior records can all neatly fall under the catch-all post-punk label, the singer introduced something darker to her sound on Juju. Led by Steve Severin’s propulsive bass lines, Juju’s songs are a far cry from Siouxsie’s origins as part of the Sex Pistols entourage, the Bromley Contingent. Pop music may have influenced some of Siouxsie’s finer songs, including “Happy House” on prior LP Kaleidoscope, but the Banshees opted to push into more gothic territory with Juju, its songs featuring lyrics about voodoo dolls, murder and Halloween.
Kicking off the album is lead single “Spellbound,” one of the band’s most arresting and best-loved tracks. Beginning with McGeogh’s swift, finger-picked guitar and Budgie’s pounding drums, Siouxsie’s horror-themed lyrics about overwhelming madness set the stage for the rest of Juju: “You hear laughter cracking through the walls/ It sends you spinning/ You have no choice.” It’s a powerful opening statement, the first salvo in a cavalcade of intensity that rarely lets up over the album’s 41 minutes and, in many ways, an augury of the spellbinding effect the song has on listeners.
The treatment of women by men, a theme that Siouxsie often visits in her work, takes on a sinister thread here. In second single “Arabian Knights,” the singer wails, “Veiled behind screens/ Kept as your baby machine/ Whilst you conquer more orifices.” Heady stuff, for sure, yet the Banshees ensure that you can still dance along at the club on a Saturday night.
The inclusion of McGeogh, now a full member of the Banshees, pushed the band to create one of its finest albums. After playing with both Magazine and Visage during the late ‘70s, McGeogh joined the Banshees in 1980, playing guitar on Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982) before succumbing to the excesses of life in a rock band. After non-stop touring and alcohol consumption, McGeogh suffered a nervous breakdown and left the band.
Yet, McGeogh’s guitar is one of the most distinct things about Juju. While recording with producer Nigel Gray, McGeogh began experimenting with an effects device for the guitar called the Gizmo. Developed in the early ‘70s, the device is affixed to the instrument’s body and uses small plastic wheels on the strings, creating an eerie, otherworldly sound. This helped McGeogh give the guitar on songs such as “Into the Light” its distinct sound.
Harder and darker than anything else Siouxsie and the Banshees would record again, Juju can be nearly suffocating in its ominous production and heavy-hitting bass and percussion. By the time the album whirls to a close with “Voodoo Dolly,” Juju has whipped the listener through so many emotions, it can’t help but be one of the crowning achievements in a discography that boasts so many gems.