It’s curious where animals won’t go: the best of Siouxsie and the Banshees

As I ended my third decade, this crew’s penchant for kitsch, amalgam of what used to be called “Oriental” imagery (it remains so, and that’s how the band likes it) and escapism, and post-punk ferocity sounded fresher than when I was dragged to the James L. Knight Center to watch them on Thanksgiving weekend 1991. Marco Pirroni, John McGeoch, John Carruthers, or the Cure’s Robert Smith — these guitarists eschewed conventional solos, preferring color and shade on dense, percussive tracks played by stalwart drummer Budgie. And in a New Pop environment where variations on masculinity got on Top of the Pops, Siouxsie Sioux’s appropriation of Hollywood and drag clubs brought welcome histrionics to a dour scene. Her influence is considerable: from Morrissey and Karen O to Scissor Sisters, Shirley Manson, and Gaga, any performer who wears his or her hair as if it were a wig and prefers the grand, ridiculous gesture owes something to Siouxsie.

I see no reason to deviate from the CW lauding Kaleidoscope, Juju, and A Kiss from the Dreamhouse as their essential releases, with the second entry reaching a particular peak of intensity. Keyboards begin to substitute for guitars on Hyeana and Tinderbox, but where would dance floors playing alternative/college rock/Britpop be without “Cities in Dust,” home of the most cunningly deployed synth chimes of the eighties? Novitiates looking for substance beyond their exemplary singles comps should give Through the Looking Glass a chance. Released a year before “Peek a Boo” made them recipients of record company promotional dough (“Peek a Boo” topped Billboard’s inaugural ‘modern rock’ chart in fall ’88), this collection offered splendid covers of judiciously curated tracks by John Cale, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, Television, and, yeah, The Jungle Book. As a pre- and post-punk primer, it’s an excellent way to dig in; I still can’t hear the original “This Wheel’s on Fire” and “The Passenger” after the Banshees schlocked them up with horns.

Like many of their colleagues they had trouble accommodating their frontperson’s visual command into recognizable MTV forms; the music became contorted and compromised. I found 1991’s Superstition almost without merit at the time and still do, despite marveling at “Kiss Them For Me” sashaying on fountains of pink champagne into #23 on Billboard’s Hot 100 weeks before Soundscan reconfigured the singles chart. I still haven’t heard 1995’s Cale-produced The Rapture; I’ll allow others to make the case for the Batman Returns anthem “Face to Face,” co-written by Stephen Hague, doing for the fraying band what he did for New Order that same year.

1. Dazzle
2. Christine
3. Happy House
4. Arabian Knights
5. Peek a Boo
6. Halloween
7. Cities in Dust
8. Green Fingers
9. Hong Kong Garden
10. Melt!
11. This Wheel’s on Fire
12. Spellbound
13. Painted Bird
14. Trust in Me
15. Candyman
16. Killing Jar (Single Mix)
17. Slowdive
18. Scarecrow
19. Sin in My Heart
20. The Passenger
21. Kiss Them For Me
22. The Last Beat of My Heart
23. Belladonna
24. Poppy Day
25. Cannons

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