iouxsie Sioux continues to defy expectations. From a woman whose career has already been full of twists, this should come as no surprise—but therein lies a true talent, pulling the wool over already expectant eyes. A return to the drum-laden excursions of 2003's Hai was always unlikely; direct retreads are not on Sioux's agenda, especially with the Banshees now banished and Creatures unleashed back into the wild. Clues, though, seemed to be forthcoming from the lavish Dreamshow tour, which married a live orchestra and grand surrounds to the Siouxsie experience. Perhaps her long-rumoured solo album would mine this seam to completion?
Not a chance. Famously keen to incorporate guitars which can mimic "a horse falling off a cliff," the discordant growl and squeal which introduce solo Sioux are more like Mincing A Swan than "Into a Swan." It's a heck of an attention grabber—and though the grungy churn of this opening single can hardly be hailed as original, when matched with that unmistakable voice it does, indeed, unfurl into a bit of a winged beauty. Industrial-esque grind wasn't on anyone's prediction coupon, and it works all the better for having the element of surprise.
However, the domineering diva within has proved impossible to suppress, and it's the cuts of cabaret swagger that really clutch the imagination with an elbow-length glove. "If It Doesn't Kill You" smolders with sorrow and future strength, building to a hopeful crescendo amidst the smoke and sway; a motion picture soundtrack viewed through the looking glass. No such words of encouragement to be found on "Here Comes That Day," a brassy, withering put-down of some unfortunate, sniveling weasel, whose duplicity is exposed in no short order. Siouxsie bestrides the track like a meteorological colossus, taking great delight in bringing the stinging rains of retribution down on our parades. In keeping with this deluge, the long-awaited "Sea of Tranquility" (its lyrics first appeared in the Gifthorse fanzine a number of years ago) emerges as a fantastical oceanic trip, wrapped in engulfing waters and reaching for impossible, far away stars.
Though Ms. Sioux tends to disassociate herself from any imposition of a "legacy," comparisons with previous projects are inevitable. Whilst, as might be expected, clear attempts to place some distance have been made (who'd have thought distorted solos and jazz-tinged arrangements would ever appear on a Siouxsie album?), faint voices from history still make it through the void. Specifically, "One Mile Below" appears to be a radical reworking of the Boomerang beats-n-harmonies number, "Solar Choir"—the familiar melody flowing underneath an increased tempo and overdriven guitars. The moments of "hey, that sounds a bit like ..." are few, but notable; and perhaps unavoidable with such a distinctive vocal presence.
In any case, these are welcome echoes from the past, not a weary retracing of footsteps. Part of this disconnect stems from the first-time use of hired guns, in place of a familiar, unified band; although what this saps in cohesion, it makes up in relaxed, almost playful freedom. This sense of openness extends to the lyrical offerings, which have (sadly, one might conclude) dropped much of the oblique Banshee mysticism in favor of more straightforward phraseology. Whilst it seems unlikely that Sioux ever ducked away from any subject, she's certainly speaking plainly now. Throughout, Mantaray reveals aspects of punk's original "ice queen" that previous encounters have only hinted at. Though, like the best performers, she keeps just enough behind the curtain—out of the vulgar public gaze. It not only leaves us wanting more, but once again guessing fruitlessly at what the next step might be.