Tuesday, March 03, 2009

IN DEFENSE OF...
I was talking to an old pal the other day. He asked me the age-old question, the one which I don't mind being asked, but also the one which also draws the biggest blank every time: What have you been listening to lately? I browsed the stack of CDs and LPs next to the stereo... "Ummm... some old fIREHOSE albums, Bill Evans' early '60s trio stuff, The Move, Cluster, Flying Burrito Brothers, Lobby Loyde's preposterous but highly enjoyable space-rock disc from '76, early rocksteady by Duke Reid - geez, eclectic motherfucker, ain't I? Uh-huh, yeah... - and also some early albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees". It was the last one which raised eyebrows. This is for two reasons: A) I'm usually viewed as somewhat of an anti-Anglophile in my musical bias'; and B) Siouxsie And The Banshees (SATB) are just the kind of band which'd probably make a Carducci choke on his double-beef deluxe burger, and hence apparently not the kinda band I'd dig. Supposedly. My friend then noted in a smart-arsed manner, Geez, Dave, I suppose you'll be listening to Echo And The Bunnymen next, huh? No, I won't. There's an important difference here: SATB made some terrific post-punk albums in their day, records obviously sourced from their great love of Can, VU, Roxy Music and Brit psychedelia; Echo and his merry men were a bunch of bland limp-dicks who epitomised the degeneration in UK music at the dawn of the '80s and wrote the musical template for Bono and his pals to wallow in. But back to the matter at hand...
Aaah, 1980's Kaleidoscope! Yes, this is the finest SATB disc there be, and I really like their debut, The Scream, a lot, and their follow-up to this, 1981's Juju, even more. There's their sophomore LP, Join Hands, to contend w/, too, but everyone keeps telling me it ain't that good, so I've always steered clear. Am I being foolish? But anyway, get all that Goth baloney outta yer head; Kaleidoscope has about as much to do w/ "Goth" - a genre I find to be almost entirely devoid of any substance or musical quality/quantity - as it does w/ country-rock. This is their album most steeped in a kinda Brit post-punk sound, and by that I mean it's more in yer Wire/PiL vein of things, w/ a heavy dose of noisy Yank art-rock a la Suicide/Pere Ubu. It's got two bona fide "hits" you mighta heard in years gone by, "Happy House" and "Christine", and a swag of just-as-good if not better album tracks, such as "Trophy", "Clockface" and the truly awesome "Hybrid", a sax-abetted number w/ military drum patterns and a chance for Siouxsie to prove that, beyond all the punk cliches that hounded her since her first public appearance in '76, she actually had a very cool and listenable set of pipes which could be put to perfect use in the right context. Again, if you think that SATB may be off your musical map coz there's so much bogus baggage wrapped up in some of their fans, or if you simply think they weren't once a musical entity but a fashion template, you're doing yourself a disservice. Kaleidoscope, as well as some of the LPs surrounding it on both sides, goes to show them as one of the UK's better bands of the period. Inventive and never-predictable "rock" which drew from an eclectic array of influences, from the predictable Roxy/Bowie/Can/VU axis, but also from No Wave, The Cramps, Suicide and flowery Brit psychedelia a la Syd/The Move/Satanic Majesties-period 'Stones. Not a bad well to draw from, and Kaleidoscope is more than just the sum of its inspirations.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should definately check out "Join Hands". I wasn't aware that it had a bad rap, but it probably has to do with the overlong and unnecessary song that takes up most of side 2. Side 1, however, is phenomenal and includes my single favorite S&TB song ever -- "Icons".

Jay said...

Great work singling out this album. It is definitely their best, and "Trophy" is probably the best song they ever wrote. I was crazy about Siouxsie & The Banshees in high school, when they were active, and the 2 biggies for me were this one and "Juju". Never did like "Join Hands" at all - that "Lord's Prayer" is an abomination.

jon said...

This one and 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' are the peaks. But then, I'm a lot more generous toward S&TB post-'Juju' than I'd guess Dave is. ('Tinderbox' is also fantastic, though the production ruins it a little.) But for "Lunar Camel" alone this record is the business.

'Join Hands' is decent but yes, ruined by "The Lord's Prayer".

Dave said...

For me, "Juju" and "Kaleidoscope" are pretty much equals. I do actually have "Kiss In..." and like it a lot, though the production was starting to get in the way of things by then. Still, it has its moments.

jon said...

Hmm, I think it's the production that makes 'Dreamhouse' so special, that humid/tropical sound. The record's literally dripping with condensation. Gorgeous.