4. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Peepshow
When Peepshow arrived in the fall of 1988, it was seen as something of a resurrection for Siouxsie and the Banshees, touched with a little welcome reinvention. The post-punk and goth-rock pioneers hadn’t exactly been idle in the year prior, releasing both a covers album and the standalone single “Song from the Edge of the World” in 1987, but it had been two-and-a-half years since they’d issued a full-length of new material. In the fickle world of college radio, where the most basic math of institutional progress suggests a turnover of at least 25% every time the academic calendar switches over, that was a short lifetime. It was long enough that some critics received the new record with a small level of amazement that it existed, that Siouxsie Sioux and her crew hadn’t shuffled off quietly into rock ‘n’ roll retirement, fading away rather than burning out. This perception was also somewhat attributable to the expected life cycle of a band back then. Those that persevered much longer than a decade were still something of a rarity, and Peepshow was released within stage diving distance of the tenth anniversary of the group’s debut single. Fairly or not, that made the teeth on Siouxsie and the Banshees look a little longer than the norm. They had something to prove.
It’s not clear if Siouxsie Sioux felt she had something to prove, but she was clearly interested in pursuing valuable change. Part of the reason “Song from the End of the World” wasn’t connected to any album was Siouxsie Sioux’s dissatisfaction with the release. She later conceded that she found the production of Mike Thorne lacking, and the track was essentially disowned by the band. It was omitted from their 1992 singles collection and only found its way onto subsequent compilations in remixed versions. The sense that things plainly weren’t working may have also contributed to the decision to expand the band’s lineup. Peepshow was the first Siouxsie and the Banshees album recorded as a quintet, with the addition of guitarist Jon Klein and multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick, the latter credited with some of the added sonic layering found on the album.
As if to announce the band’s newfound inventiveness, Peepshow leads off with one of the most arresting songs Siouxsie and the Banshees ever recorded: “Peek-a-Boo.” Building its rhythm track around the intoxicating shuffle found in a sample of a previously recorded track played backwards, the song is fierce and urgent, punctuated with odd electronic punches and the creaking menace of a jubilant accordion part. Siousxie Sioux’s lead vocals are as unpredictable as the music, landing anywhere from croon to battle cry to achingly tender, like a greased roulette ball (part of the effect was achieved by recording with a multitude of different microphones). The track surges and slinks and curls around on itself. It’s music made for the dance floor in a surrealistic painting. While I find myself sadly unable to verify this, it’s my recollection that it held the #1 position on the CMJ Top Cuts chart for weeks on end in the fall of 1988. It took the band approximately one year to pull it together into its finished version, and the extra effort is completely evident. It’s so spectacular that it threatens to overshadow everything else on the record. I pulled Peepshow plenty of times during my tenure at the radio station, but I can’t promise with certainty that I ever played another track off of it.
And listening back to it now, there are definitely other songs worth sampling, even if the best any of the others can hope for is to jockey for runner-up position. Across the two sides, it’s the consistently adventurous nature of the music that keeps Peepshow interesting. “Carousel” sounds like the opening song to some haunted fairy tale film from Tim Burton (I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover this track is what landed them the undoubtedly lucrative gig of pitching in on the Batman Returns soundtrack), and “Burn-Up” provides the odd sensation of hearing something that might have been created by Bo Diddley had he been reared on post-punk. “Rawhead and Bloody Bones” can be heard as a thrilling ancestor to the recent brilliant work by St. Vincent. The album lags somewhat on the second side (“Turn to Stone,” for example, is more sleepy than seductive), but it ends on a fine note with the intricate, escalating majesty of “Rhapsody.”
If Siouxsie and the Banshees had developed doubters in the lead-up to Peepshow, they were surely silenced by the record’s success. In the United States, anyway, it was their highest-charting album to that point, and “Peek-a-Boo” became their first single to make it onto the Billboard Hot 100. They topped themselves a couple of years later when “Kiss Them for Me,” the lead single from 1991’s Superstition, made it into the Top 40. From there, though, the dwindling down that had been previously predicted started to take place. Despite the dream collaboration of enlisting John Cale as a producer, their 1995 album, The Rapture, was met with very little interest, even from college radio. They were dropped by their label. The following year, the band announced they were done for good, doing so on the very day the Sex Pistols introduced their “Filthy Lucre” reunion tour. As best as I can tell, the last new music ever released by Siouxsie and the Banshees was on, of all places, the Showgirls soundtrack. Blessedly, they’ve resisted any and all entreaties to reunite, in part because Siouxsie Sioux and co-founding Banshee Steven Severin feuded for years. Even with that fracture apparently patched up, I’d like to think the cheap victory lap tour is beneath them. As Peepshow communicated to me way back when, Siouxsie and the Banshees only venture forth when they’ve got something new and vital to deliver.
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–16: Ghost Stories
–15: 2 Steps from the Middle Ages
–13: Short Sharp Shocked
–11: Rattle and Hum
–10: Nothing Wrong
–9: Big Time
–8: Invisible Lantern
–7: Every Dog Has His Day
–6: Truth and Soul
–5: Workers Playtime