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Siouxsie and the Banshees - Peepshow (1988)
Producer: Mike Hedges, Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Killing Jar
Ornaments of Gold
Turn to Stone
Rawhead and Bloodybones
The Last Beat of My Heart
Released in 1988, Peepshow is the ninth studio album by the female-fronted Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Firstly, I would like all my readers to imagine the scene:
Your career is stunning, thus far, and almost entirely without fault. You closed the 1970s with one of the fieriest debuts in recent memory. You began the 1980s with a trio of well-respected albums, two of which are stunning examples of the genre's best. You thought your ghoulish outfit to be without imperfection. You have slowly built up a legion of fans and you push boundaries, gathering respect with each new release.
And then, well, it all seemed to go a bit wrong.
Somewhere between recruiting Robert Smith (The Cure) as guitarist for their 1984 album Hyaena and producing the covers-only album Through the Looking Glass in 1987, Siouxsie and the Banshees' seemingly lost their way and their output varied from the merely very good to the dreadfully banal. In the ever-changing face of the 1980s' music scene, relevancy could be lost with ease and many artists found it then hard to buy back into public and critical adoration, once it was gone.
But in 1988 the band released Peepshow. At once the record was mischievous, sonically daring, highly-melodic and Siouxsie Sioux smashes every performance with an almost operatic vocal capability throughout. (See the enthralling closing track, Rhapsody. To call it highly thrilling seems to do the band a great disservice.) Each song has at least one undeniably great vocal or instrumental hook which most bands would be happy to come up with over the course of an entire career. Yes, Siouxsie and the Banshees had found their voice again.
The choppy Peek-a-Boo and its platoon of disorientating lunges forcibly enters your life and then refuses to leave. A concurrence of various instrumentation weaves in and out of the studio, the band chucking everything available at the wall of sound. Thankfully, it all sticks. The accordion still haunts me now, bookending Siouxsie's chilling, delirium-inducing prances, swimming in and out of earshot, from one speaker to the other. Second single, The Killing Jar, comes next and provides a more steady rhythm for the listener to cling to. A delightful slice of pop wonderment, its musical bridges literally make me want to scream in frustration, knowing I will never craft something as perfect as this.
And then comes something for the older fans, given a bit of a twist. Scarecrow is the band's typical 'chiller' - which had been perfected on 1981's Juju - but now given the Peepshow treatment. The production is more refined, the band members doing their very minimalist best, with all focus placed upon the band's greatest asset - Siouxsie's theatrical voice. "Listen to his body moan, make a wish and send us home. To spin the gold and silver stitches, we can turn his rags to riches," Siouxsie erupts, over a barrage of rolling guitars. I guarantee you will be caught up in the performance. My personal favourite, however, is the morbidly amusing Burn-Up. The band crafts a winning combination of rockabilly drama and harmonica hooks, to titivate this crazy tale of a pyromaniac on a killing spree and make it acceptable to the general consumer. No mean feat.
Arguably, this midsection of the album is the most credible from a critical point of view. There's so many different styles at play here all being executed flawlessly that the band has my absolute kudos. You usually just don't get this level of experimentation coming off as listenable as it is. Not that the album lets up here onwards, though, as each track is as listenable as the last. Case in question: Rawhead and Bloodybones is a gentle lullaby, doubling as a cruelly enchanting soundtrack to the doll's house from hell. Its properties are mystifying and I'm still left not entirely sure what I am listening to. But some things are best left unexplained.
Naturally, I've left Peepshow's - and indeed the band's - magnum opus to last, The Last Beat of My Heart. It's extremely rare to find such a restrained love song, especially from a band who previously would hammer home their point with an increase in volume. Its soundscape is so fleeting and faint that it almost falls from view a couple of times, only to be elevated again by the strongest vocal performance of Siouxsie's entire career. This is romance, exemplified and defined.
Siouxsie and the Banshees would never reach these dizzy heights again and while their output during the 1990s was still enjoyable, this listener views The Last Beat of My Heart as their swansong, both lyrically and in terms of quality of their future productions. That said, no band could hope to reach the highs set by this most majestic of love songs.
I personally feel that Peepshow is a successful juxtaposition of styles you would never typically put together, especially from a band who - while keen for experimentation - always stuck firmly to their gothic and punk blueprint. There's an air of playfulness about Peepshow which is devilishly funny when considering the often morbid lyrical content. The fact the songwriters successfully pulled off a pop album in the process smart enough to make Robert Smith blush makes it all the more resonant. And that is why it is Siouxsie and the Banshees' best album.
(Actually, smash that, right now it's my favourite album of all time.)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 The Killing Jar
6 Ornaments Of Gold
7 Turn To Stone
8 Rawhead And Bloody Bones
9 The Last Beat Of My Heart