SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES’ ECLECTIC, BRILLIANT DISCOGRAPHY.
Listening to an iconic group’s distinctive discography in just few helpings can be like touching the tip of an iceberg. Siouxsie and the Banshees is an unit that I’ve been fortunate to discover in late 2022 as it remained on my musical/ pop-culture bucket list since two years prior. HALLOWEEN, SPELLBOUND and its cover of DEAR PRUDENCE opened gateways to be immersed in the members’ creative play with light and darkness in thematic material. There is a greater joy when more eclectic, socially conscious subjects come into the picture, marking a cultural revelation, with an emphasis on the stereotypes that native social orders perpetuate through their own unchanging mores as well as their obvious negative absorption by other cultures.
There is capitalism, cultural appropriation on the frontlines of such numbers by Siouxsie Sioux and her bandmates as HONG KONG GARDEN( “chicken chowmein and chop suey/ Hong Kong Garden takeaway”) & LUNAR CAMEL where exotica and its superficiality is revealed in a sensual, lush arrangement that mimics the Middle Eastern soundscape we identify with.
Or in DESERT KISSES and ISRAEL where regional politics, native ideals of consumerism and Western encroachment driven by avarice break a cultural fulcrum apart, such as the juxtaposition of Noel with the young nationhood of Israel in the titular hit, making that specific thrust of its subject and politics universal.
Then there’s the acerbic heft in ARABIAN KNIGHTS’ chorus(” Myriad lights, they said I’d be impressed/ Arabian Knights, at their primitive best”), with its “I heard a rumour/ what have you done to her?” refrain questioning conservative gender roles as well as personifying the region and larger ethos in the image of a woman wronged at the hands of corruption. I also love the martial invocation in the second half here where singer Siouxsie Sioux’s “ho, ho, ho” packs in a fierce war against such levers of control sanctioned by patriarchy above all. The synth soundscape enhances the bold confrontation with passive reception of culture on ARABIAN KNIGHTS as also on DESERT KISSES and ISRAEL.
The thematic companion to this series of songs is the excellent CITIES IN DUST, again a bold takedown of civilizational backlog and cultural hubris that is timeless in the way it dissects its concerns. The chorus and its delivery by Ms. Sioux are impeccable.
To make this list more diverse, I had to share my appreciation for the group’s sombre take on Billie Holiday’s iconic STRANGE FRUIT that utilises the orchestra and Siouxsie’s urgent, soaring vocals to reach a point of discernment about the tentacles of race and violence. On the other end of the spectrum lies their peppy, absolutely uplifting take on IGGY POP’s THE PASSENGER. It is an upshot of pure joy and a welcome addition to the canon because the gothic drama of FACE TO FACE next is deliciously pegged to play to the group’s strengths, with the refined orchestral arrangements echoing an area of darkness they interpret beautifully. The elegant manner in which Sioux enunciates, “You’ll never know” here is unforgettable, as if she’s about to slip off a precipice with the last word but retains her stride and the mystery which makes her so unique. Almost as if she’s indefatigably immortal.
Of course, I save the very best, most unique among this discography for the last. That honour belongs to RED LIGHT, a potent cultural moment that is sensual, acerbic in its look at materialism vis-a-vis erotic impulses embedded within pop-art. Siouxsie Sioux’s sinister, at times almost ice-cold delivery is a suitable showcase here, complemented by the synths, the drone effect and the use of camera shutters.
In this collective whole, the futuristic sound echoes our concurrent A. I. age where the lyrics pertaining to the camera being an universal eye, i.e.,”the aperture shuts/ too much exposure”; see the red light rinsing”) is topical. Exploitation of physicality and gender roles are covered with a stark tonality. RED LIGHT is a song that makes one sway to its rhythm, listen and take notice of the lyrics while utterly captivating us by its aural distinction. I love it. It has to be the creative peak for SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES among a whole list of worthy ones.
WHITNEY HOUSTON’S ICONIC MEDLEY AT AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS, 1994.
The greatest figures are those with a Midas touch, such that decades down the line their impact finds renewed resonance in cycles of unimpeachable artistry.
The medley of I LOVE YOU, PORGY, a Gershwin standard already made iconic by Nina Simone, Jennifer Holliday’s Dreamgirls touchstone AND I’M TELLING YOU and Whitney’s very own The Bodyguard ballad I HAVE NOTHING receive an epic treatment by The Voice. The stance, the Goddess- like stage presence, gesticulation enhancing the swell of emotions and the stretching of that blessed spirit to its edge of euphoria all get validated in the ten minutes we are fortunate to be privy to and make our very own.
The fact that Naomie Ackie has embodied these iconic ten minutes in the final stretch of I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY, an official big-screen biography, cements its timeless status.
UNTIL I FOUND YOU by STEPHEN SANCHEZ.
When a song’s timeless appeal makes one cite the silky likes of an Elvis, Etta James, The Platters, Roy Orbison, Skeeter Davis and The Righteous Brothers, you know you have discovered something special indeed.
Stephen Sanchez has made his impressive beginnings with a classic template, complete with wistful sentiment, resonant central melody and assured vocals on UNTIL I FOUND YOU. One can only hope the purity of the first step ahead paves way for more such earworms, consistent in quality. This one here is worth all our love.
ANTI- HERO & CAROLINA by TAYLOR SWIFT.
Taylor Swift’s ANTI-HERO is a modern earworm and her impeccably written lyrics have a lot to do with its instant appeal. The melody and comforting use of synths further help us to entwine ourselves with its journey of catharsis. “It’s me, Hi!/ I’m the problem, it’s me” is a wonderful piece of confession that is self-effacing, in a Me-Myself-I scenario where accountability has become plastered to complicity.
For this listener, CAROLINA is a true work of beauty. Melodious and characteristically poetic as it is, the song is Romanticism at its best, staying true to its credo of nature and imagination being equal stakeholders in a journey of life. It befits the journey Taylor traces for the WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING soundtrack. I am in awe of its serenity and it is now there among Swift’s best works such as SAFE AND SOUND, BACK TO DECEMBER, BEGIN AGAIN, THE LAST TIME down to her latest output in EVERMORE, CARDIGAN, EXILE and THE LAKES et al. It constitutes a discography soft as a cloud, precious and unsullied as memory.
WHATAYA WANT FROM ME by PINK & ADAM LAMBERT respectively.
There’s something original, no-nonsense and wholly unforgettable about Pink’s WHATTAYA WANT FROM ME. Of course, it goes without saying that she has always been a prime catalyst of lyrical honesty, set to music shorn of overarching statements. On WHATTAYA WANT FROM ME, the arc of a relationship is offset by its use of guitar that makes up its impressive body of work.
The second take on this song, reiterated faithfully, word by word and in terms of instrumentation, is by Adam Lambert. This is the version I heard a decade ago and fell in love with, turning to the original fairly recently. Collectively, they showcase two powerful vocalists who make this seemingly simple song full of angst, edge and longing, even redemption from the constant pall of insecurity.
Both of them count equally.
FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE by THE CURE.
Another dispatch in favour of the Robert Smith fronted band that has become a staple for this listener was inevitable.
It had to include the innocence and wonder of FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE. So it is here, part of my playlist and making its presence felt for its sheer ease. Its joie de vivre for the eponymous weekend.
BOTH SIDES NOW by JOSH GROBAN & SARA BAREILLES.
Joni Mitchell’s sonic poem on the vagaries of time and churn of humanity keeps adding meaningful iterations to its sustained legacy.
Josh Groban, fresh from his successful stint on ABC’s 30th anniversary celebration of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, churns out the standard in his timeless voice and giving him betokened company is none other than songbird Sara Bareilles.
It’s a perfect match to provide this solitary testament with the confidence of a duet. This reiteration earns its plaudits, thanks to the production and the vocalists’ united front.
MILEY CYRUS’ NEW YEAR’S EVE PERFORMANCES.
Miley Cyrus is an artist who you can bet will put on a show with all her notes perfectly in place and with an electric charge to her stage oeuvre to stand by. Her partnership with Dolly Parton then can be nothing but epic in a joint scenario as we’ve seen time and again. As is her love for covering a classic songbook across genres.
I deem myself extremely fortunate to have watched her NBC New Year’s Eve Special last night on YouTube. It is a total blast, with WRECKING BALL and I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU by the duo reinforcing our sense of musical solidarity; let us also raise our fists and inner guitar gods with their combined force for Joan Jett’s I LOVE ROCK & ROLL while David Bowie’s LET’S DANCE receives a great turn with her and David Byrne. MIDNIGHT SKY comes together for a fitting fifth spoke.
Watch it to be mesmerised by these dependable artists and anticipate Miley’s new material in the new year.