Was it really almost 30 years ago that Siouxsie & the Banshees, along with their buddies in The Cure, defined what it means to be goth? Just imagine: if they had decided to wear orange instead of black, how different the club scene would be today. Fashion choices aside, the Banshees, like Blondie, always seemed subsumed under the sheer force of their singer’s personality, and their music naturally evolved towards pop, with the success of “Peek-a-boo” the greatest evidence of that transformation. But even that was 20 years ago. Does Ms. Sioux survive the transformation into a one-name persona?
Well, thankfully, her voice is as unique and captivating as ever. Check out “About to Happen,” where she struts and teases her way over a beat somewhere between the retro-rock of Wolfmother and the glammy electro of Goldfrapp: “Tension mounts / about to blow.” “Here Comes That Day,” with its trumpets and loping beat, could be straight out of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse school of updated R&B, but in Siouxsie’s hands, it takes on a kind of vampy, cabaret-style appeal. That cabaret sound emerges full force by track 5, “If It Doesn’t Kill You,” where you can almost see the well-dressed patrons in a smoky lounge, drinking martinis as Siouxsie drapes herself over a piano.
Mostly, though, the sound is definitely current, but still idiosyncratic: it never tries too hard, and despite Siouxsie’s longtime absence from music, there’s nothing desperate about Mantaray. There’s also nothing that urgent; if you never cared about Siouxsie and the Banshees, you probably won’t discover yourself falling in love with Siouxsie now. It’s the way of the world: a solo record, 30 years after your band helped ignite a whole movement, will probably be a more sedate, professional affair. But if that’s a given (and considering how embarrassing these late-career “returns” can be), Mantaray is often very good, both as a tribute to Siouxsie the image, and as a purely enjoyable listen.
Mantaray is out now on Decca.
MP3s: “Here Comes That Day,” “Into a Swan,” and “If It Doesn’t Kill You” from Nine Bullets
Video: “Into a Swan”
“Here Comes That Day” live on “Erasercuts”