Siouxsie and the Banshees coalesced out of the dense cloud of unbathed mutants and weirdos surrounding the Sex Pistols. Their first incarnation occurred on September 20, 1976. It featured not-yet-Pistol Sid Vicious "playing" drums, future Adam and the Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni, and future Siouxsie and the Banshees bassist Steve Severin. The "band" made random noise for twenty minutes while Siouxsie herself declaimed the Lord's Prayer, bits of nursery rhymes, and whatever else popped into her head. I'm not sorry I missed it.

Not long after, they got a real drummer, Kenny Morris, and went through a series of guitarists until they settled on John McKay. McKay also played saxophone infrequently, though not infrequently enough.

In that form, they released The Scream in 1978 and Join Hands in 1979. Both were grim, painful punk records. They had a neat gimmick, though, which most of the early British punks never thought of: They could play their instruments. They were tight and they weren't fucking around1. They didn't change anybody's life, but it was good stuff. Join Hands breaks down on side 2, where they ran out of material and filled in with the miserable "Lord's Prayer" thing ("Fodderstompf", anyone?)

Then, Morris and McKay decamped in the middle of a tour. Sioux and Severin replaced Morris with a guy who calls himself Budgie and had been in The Slits. The guitarist chair was temporarily filled by Curist Robert Smith and by other random passersby including Magazine guitarist John McGeoch and ex-Pistol Steve Jones.

This is where it gets cool. Most of the British punks couldn't grow out of it. They ended up going basically nowhere, rebellion mutating into schtick2. Siouxsie and the Banshees escaped that syndrome. With the above-enumerated flock of guitarists, they made Kaleidoscope in 1980, a weird and colorful record. It had synthesizers on it and didn't much resemble their previous work.

Maybe because Magazine was going nowhere interesting, or maybe because Howard DeVoto was even goddamn weirder than Siouxsie herself, John McGeoch joined the Banshees full-time, and they recorded Juju in 1981. My friends, this is a very cool record, full of groovy guitar noise and tremendous energy. It's a little bit gloomy, and Sioux's lyrics always read like bad high-school poetry on paper, but you're not supposed to read them: You're supposed to listen to the record. Go listen to it now. I'm not kidding. I'll wait right here until you get back. I've got a full bag of tobacco and an empty ashtray. I'll be fine.

Next, McGeoch called in sick and Robert Smith rejoined. In 1984 they released Hyaena, which is a little overdone in spots but very good. They must have kept Smith on a short leash. They were getting groovy and polychromatic again; they even covered "Dear Prudence". If I recall correctly (it's not worth walking over to my records to find out), this was the same year Echo and the Bunnymen did Ocean Rain, and the two were equated in the music press. Listen to them both to see how well and how badly the same ideas can be executed by two different bands: The Bunnymen rekkid is a pooch, and I'm being kind.

Robert Smith bailed and was replaced by somebody called John Valentine Carruthers who had been in something called Clock DVA. For my money, they were forgettable from there on in, with the exception of the Creatures side-project, which has its own writeup. Apparently the Banshees broke up in 1996.

1 This was true of the Sex Pistols as well. Forget Sid; Glen Matlock played on the album. Jones and Cook were solid. Cook in particular had a real nice touch. There's a version of "Did You No Wrong" floating around where you can really hear him, and he's just there, very confident right foot, down the middle, right in the pocket.

2 Joy Division got away with it, too.

Dates and lineup specifics are from; all opinions and aesthetic judgements are my own, and should be taken as final and definitive Truth.

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