Siouxsie & the Banshees
Join Hands
1979/2006
C-



by the band’s own admission, not their finest release. Woah, wait, don’t abandon review just yet (the lifeboats have holes anyway). Join Hands is certainly not as consistent as The Scream, but that only downgrades the potential to “worse than that other really brilliant record”—still worth sticking around for, evidently. There remains some interesting stuff on board this reissue, if you care to step carefully around the seaweed.

It’s fairly well established that the twin demands of needing to push out a second album and holding together an increasingly antagonistic group didn’t result in a bevy of broadly beaming Banshees. Not necessarily a problem in itself—plenty of bands have churned out magnificent records whilst members sat in the grumpy corner—but, when combined with the pressures of time, these are factors which undeniably affect sound and structure. It seems unlikely that “Mother / Oh Mein Papa,” in which Sioux coos and pouts over minimalist music-box accompaniment, would have made it on to an album with the luxury of more development. Yet Join Hands is stronger for its inclusion, which hints at the greater diversity of sound that was to come with Kaleidoscope.

The same, alas, cannot be said of “The Lords Prayer.” Understandably keen to commit a live favourite to tape (and in need of additional material), it’s hard to begrudge the band for throwing it on and hoping it stuck. However, though it was no doubt iconic, frenzied, blasphemous, and all kinds of other exciting adjectives when performed live, here it merely becomes ... a bit flat and boring; indistinguishable bursts of moderate guitar grinding, melding with Siouxsie’s ultimately frustrated attempts at capturing the spirit of spontaneous improvisation. Sly glances at the CD timer to check how many of the fourteen minutes have passed are never a good sign and as Banshees epics go it serves only to cast “The Rapture” in a newly favourable light. The liner notes hint that a string-drenched, intensively proggy version was mooted at one point—teasing at what might have been.

That the end of the album flops so dramatically (and at such length) is something of a shame, as what precedes is arguably the equal of their debut. With a doom-tinged bell tower clang and a whirling sense of unease, “Playground Twist” makes a credible claim to be the finest of the early-era Banshees singles. “Icon” exudes a detached sense of chill, and “Premature Burial” can only leave one wondering how they didn’t get around to recording something this evocatively disconcerting sooner.

Luckily, we live in a world of perpetual reissues—meaning any shortcomings a record may have can be directly addressed by the intravenous injection of bonus tracks. Things start extremely positively with the hyperkinetic nihilism (well, sort of) of “Love in a Void” and the mournful “Infantry” instrumental, which acts as a gentle support to the opening “Poppy Day.” Then, of course, there’s the classic ... oh, that’s it. Due to oversight, corporate meddling, demo tapes lost in flooded basements, or who knows what else, nothing else is added. No cleaned up bootlegs showing us how “The Lords Prayer” should really be done, no b-sides (already collected on the Downside Up box), and no muffled, bedroom-based efforts. Sometimes bloating a re-release with extra tracks seems foolish and unnecessary, but in this case a few more unearthed rarities or live performances may have added polish to a flawed gem.

Join Hands is a band at the crossroads, riding in a car whose wheels are dangerously close to falling off. Though the engine is still fresh, it represents the end of the early Banshees era and the cusp of a move away from their original sound—toward purple turtles, desert kisses, and colours kaleidoscopic. With a touch more rehabilitation, this reissue could have nudged the album’s stature closer to The Scream. As things are, it will remain somewhat overshadowed. A missed opportunity.



Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2006-06-29
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