Through the Looking Glass was a much-needed breath of fresh air after constantly pushing their sound forward with each original album — this was a chance to have some fun.
Whereas cover albums usually mean a dearth of ideas, Through the Looking Glass presents Siouxsie and the Banshees at yet another creative peak. A Banshees cover album is simply more compelling than most, their reworkings smartly turn the originals on their heads, revealing untapped potential in sonic explorations, while retaining the band’s own sound and feel throughout. Inspired by the success of their 1983 cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a top 3 hit in the UK, Through the Looking Glass was a much-needed breath of fresh air after constantly pushing their sound forward with each original album — this was a chance to have some fun.
Not only do the Banshees display a unique intelligence with their sharp song arrangements, but they also have muso-approved taste in music: contemporaries and younger influencers, such as Sparks, Roxy Music and Television, make up the bulk of Through the Looking Glass. However, it is not without a tip of the hat to legends such as Iggy Pop and even has a take on a tune from Disney’s The Jungle Book. These sort of inspired choices, such as an unexpected, string and horn heavy version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” find the Banshees gleefully redreaming their influences.
Take, for instance, their version of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us,” a dark and frantic cover of the quirky Sparks original. Russell Mael’s high-pitched and theatrically camp delivery is replaced by Sioux’s confident wail and the band swing behind her. A twanging sitar rears its head halfway through and shows the Banshee’s sense of humor to be just as sharp as the brothers Mael. These sort of unexpected bursts of instrumentation give depth to the Banshees’ smart arrangements and present a band thinking outside of the box. “The Passenger” brings out an almost Beatles-y quality to the original’s melody as Sioux is assisted by booming horns that brighten up Pop’s brooding gaze — a decision that was praised by the Iggster himself.
“Little Johnny Jewel,” the shambolic shuffle that introduced Television’s twin guitar noise symphonies to the New York punks, is given a fresh coat of paint through orchestral rushes that glide and pick about and Budgie’s typically beautiful and dynamic drumming. Guitarist John Carruthers focuses on a compact two note drone, guitar scratches and moaning feedback, reimagining the original’s ever ascending solos into minimalist riffage. Their take on Dylan’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” features stunning swoops of violin backing, drips of sparkling koto twinkles and a thunderous bass and guitar rumble that aggressively sets the track into perpetual motion. It’s all rather thrilling for those familiar with the originals, and a bar raising introduction to those who are not — some of these covers could easily pass as superior versions.
Blasphemy, perhaps, but the Banshee’s total reimaging of “Hall of Mirrors” is one of those moments. It is a stunning, almost meditative, recreation of Kraftwerk’s sparse drone as synths are substituted by expertly arranged echoes of harp and Carruthers’s cascading acoustic guitar arpeggios. Sioux chanting “Even the greatest stars/ Live their lives in the looking glass” turns machine detachment into warm humanity and further fleshes out Kraftwerk’s strong melodic qualities.
“Trust in Me,” the aforementioned Jungle Book cut, is turned into a haunting waft of dreamy harps as Sioux acts out the role of Kaa, a cunning snake, even replicating the character’s rolled tongue delivery. Taking on such unusual source material could be gimmicky in the wrong hands, but at this point the Banshees are completely comfortable in their own skin — they know what works well for their own sound and how to bend and mold arrangements to fit that agenda. Never a band to rest on their laurels, even these covers that were banged out in a month or so in between tours present a band with a constant desire to evolve.