Peepshow may be less opaque than some of the band’s previous output, but the content remains intentionally dismal.
A covers record can be more than just a novel interstitial. Through the Looking Glass was a curation of Siouxsie & the Banshees’ creative subconscious; from Kraftwerk to Billie Holiday to Iggy Pop to Bob Dylan to Walt Disney, the tracklist reflects the band’s tension between edge and tradition, grit and whimsy. Even in relinquishing authorship, the Banshees revolutionized their own narrative. Until this point, the band rattled around influences and inspirations in their own closed system, their sound evolving from explorations within. Recording the covers provoked a new approach: do more by doing less. Simpler chords. Melody over cacophony. Structure instead of shape. In a turn worthy of the Lewis Carroll reference, the Banshees looked in the mirror and found other people. Peepshow creates a new space for the band, decoupling innovation from complexity.
Peepshow may be less opaque than some of the band’s previous output, but the content remains intentionally dismal. Several of the tracks transform childhood artifacts by dark magick: “Carousel” begins as a sparse duet of Siouxsie’s vocals against glassine arpeggios of pipe organ keyboards, an elegy that disturbs as it intensifies. “Oh, painted vile in lurid hue/ The snarling horse that waits for you.” Distorted arcs of guitar tones bow downward as Budgie kicks in with a cantering beat. The percussion hitches up and the momentum is kinetic: the song is spinning and it conveys a sense of existential nausea the Banshees elicit so well. Sioux adopts a halting sing-song affectation that complements sproingy hairpin twangs in “Rawhead and Bloodybones,” a nursery rhyme more unsettling than anything Edward Gorey ever dreamed up (“We’re down here/ Held here/ Dragged here/ And drowned here by/ Rawhead and Bloodybones”). Keeping to theme, Sioux even finishes out the rockabilly-laced “Burn-Up” by calling out the “Jack Be Nimble” rhyme against strains of disassembling Americana – Budgie’s frenetic harmonica blowing sidles up to an accelerating coda of hoots and hollers.
“Peek-a-boo,” Peepshow’s lead single, counteracts the childhood relics with an eye for adult material. “Creeping up the back stairs/ Slinking into dark stalls/ Shapeless and slumped in bath chairs/ Furtive eyes peep out of holes.” The introduction is so…bizarre. The keyboard run sounds like a snake slithering backwards; the percussion stutters and flips like a camera shutter. It’s both halting and fluid – and the sequencing seems out of time – it’s dissociative genius. Newest Banshee and multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick earns his glory here with accordion work that evokes the muscular desperation of a seedy cabaret. A flight of horns peppers the verses, popping out from the corners as if in a bad cartoon. The Banshees understand the economy of negative space: Budgie’s drum fills are restrained yet cavernous; a single strike of Steven Severin’s bass is pure cinema. The chorus – “Golly jeepers/ Where’d you get those peepers?/ Creepshow, peepshow/ Where did you get those eyes?” – is perhaps the best known of the band’s catalog and, better yet, a meta-reference to Siouxsie herself, an icon recognized by the stark geometry of her Dada-esque eyes.
Peepshow is the first album the Banshees recorded as a quintet, Jon Klein replacing John Carruthers on guitar (Klein preferred as less of an egoist) and instrumentalist Martin McCarrick landing a permanent spot as the fifth member. The inclusion of McCarrick allowed the band to experiment with a fuller sound, as they’d been reluctant to compose with keyboards and strings since they couldn’t anticipate how it would translate to live performance. The eclectic pop of accordion in “Peek-a-boo” was justification enough, but he shines elsewhere, such as the cello part he weaves into “The Killing Jar.”
The album closes with two down-tempo stunners – the tender “The Last Beat of My Heart” and Soviet-inspired “Rhapsody” – and it’s obvious that the Banshees have integrated texture into their high-contrast frequencies. “I can imagine myself at least 2,000 years old with banks of cats and banks of stone male statues,” Siouxsie once quipped. The band knew well the chill of cool marble, but as they transitioned from punk/art rock to goth pop, Siouxsie would come to tease out a sumptuous purr.