Record Review: Siouxsie + The Banshees – A Kiss In The Dreamhouse

Polydor | UK | LP | 1982 | POLD 5064

Geffen | US | CD | 1982 | GEFD-24049

Siouxsie + The Banshees: A Kiss In The Dreamhouse US CD [1982]

  1. Cascade
  2. Green Fingers
  3. Obsession
  4. She’s A Carnival
  5. Circle
  6. Melt!
  7. Painted Bird
  8. Cocoon
  9. Slowdive

This album has had a verrry long and circuitous path that led to it being lodged in my cranium this month. The first Siouxsie + The Banshees album I bought was “JuJu” as a UK import in 1981. I’d previously heard and liked “Christine” and the “Spellbound” video entranced me so I laid down my $10 for the pricey import and loved it through and through. I never saw the US pressing on PVC locally. That’s a pity since it came with the “Israel/Red On White” non-LP 7″ as a bonus. In 1981 I was in the throes of John McGeoch fandom with me buying the Visage debut album as well as “The Correct Use Of Soap,” so having more McGeoch within the very different context of The Banshees was just fine with me.

When 1982 rolled around, I laid down cash for the band’s “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse” album on import as well. The UK Polydor Deluxe cover with the lamination and metallic gold ink made the faux-Klimt artwork look even better that it would in all of its domestic pressings. That said, I spun the disc a handful of times to little effect. I can only surmise that the ’81-’82 musical environment was distracting me elsewhere. By 1985, I traded in vinyl I thought I didn’t need to get more of the shiny silver CDs in trade to justify my first [costly] CD player. I thought, “I’ll pick that up on CD later.” <INSERT 21 YEAR GAP>

In 2006, I was trading in CDs I didn’t need on LaLa and getting gold back in return for a thin dollar! I got more CDs the year of LaLa v. 1.0 than I had in many years since leaving my cushy professional life in 2001 for the great unknown. I thought that it would be good to pick up the rest of the Banshees’ albums that I still lacked since I enjoyed the band quite a bit. I finally got “Kaleidoscope,” “Tinderbox,” “Through The Looking Glass,” “The Rapture,” and “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.” <INSERT 7 YEAR GAP>

Last week I was looking for something to listen to during my commute to work where, truth be told, I do most of my critical music listening for the long trip. Well, I popped it in the CD player and it hasn’t left my car in almost two weeks. I am getting this album now, honest! That makes me feel good, because for years I have been laboring under the delusion that “Dreamhouse” was the runt of the McGeoch/Banshees litter.

“Cascade” kicks the album off with the one song that sounds as if it could have sat comfortably on the preceding “JuJu.” The acoustic guitars sound wonderful, but the drums are kind of remote in the mix. As it turns out, the self-production of this album means that it doesn’t sound as slick as the Nigel Gray production of “JuJu.” The drums, in particular, sound remote and distant. As if Budgie were recorded while playing in an adjacent room. It makes for some queer listening, but in light of the drum booth porn of the early 80s I am now grateful that the band, for whatever reason, went against the tide and made the percussion on this album take a backseat to the other elements. It makes for some humane listening. My guess is that the band were aiming for the type of “closet mix” sound that The Velvet Underground used on their eponymous third album.

I recall the Trouser Press review of this album invoked the psychedelic tag, and there was always a hint of that in the Banshees mix, but these ears hear as much English Folk music as psych. McGeoch’s playful recorder on “Green Fingers” is more than capably matched by his glorious ascending guitar riffs. The delicate percussion that Budgie adds to the track makes for a much lighter touch than the hordes of gated drum commandos that were dominating 1982. Why wasn’t this track a single?

The most experimental track here is the heavily atypical “Obsession.” Siouxsie’s voice begins the track as dryly intimate as possible as if she is singing from right behind your skull. Guitar is relegated to a single chord repeated mechanically as Siouxsie leaves the melody to the variety of tubular bells that she plays on the track. The rhythm is carried by her looped panting together with some stick percussion from Budgie. As the track unravels, her voice gradually gets more and more reverb added until she ends the track with hushed percussion and her voice as wet as it gets on this album.

The drum recording really makes a difference on “She’s A Carnival,” another track that sounds like a more typical Banshees single that could have come off of “Kaleidoscope.” As Budgie flails away furiously on his kit the remoteness of the recording technique relegates him to the back of the soundstage. The Quixotic recording technique here is uncommercial on the face of it, but since it happens throughout and the album was engineered by the ultra capable Mike Hedges, I can only imagine that they were aiming for this slightly dislocated feel. “Carnival” is on of several tracks here that end with instrumental codas that segue into the subsequent tracks.

Following “She’s A Carnival” is the most trancelike Siouxsie + The Banshees cut I’ve ever heard. “Circle” is more than appropriate in form and content as the track is built upon an AMS digital delay loop of a synth figure resembling a horn riff that it utterly relentless as it dominates the track with drums and bass only cutting in and out of the mix over time. McGeoch is relegated to synths here and he gets a hornlike solo in what would be the middle eight in a more conventional song. Once this infects your mind, it doesn’t let go easily.

siouxsie + The Banshees - meltUK12A

Melody comes back to the fore in the single “Melt!” with some gorgeous double picking by McGeoch framing some lovely backing vocal harmonies that Siouxsie adds to the swirling mix. The dark Romanticism of the cut represents Siouxsie + The Banshees at their most introverted, yet beauteous. Still, this was a strange choose for a single since it walked it own determined path that strayed far from the Top of the Pops.

Another “lost single” moment occurs with the incredible “Painted Bird.” This one integrates the drums into the whole in a much more direct fashion. The star here is not only the robust vocals of Siouxsie but the second appearance of the vaunted McGeoch ascending guitar figure that’s even better then the one he unleashed on “Green Fingers.” It sounds like the clouds parting as the sun shines through and threatens her Gothic fans with possible tanning.

The album takes a final left field excursion with the jazzy “Cocoon.” I think it must have been something in the water in 1982 what with The Cure cutting “Lovecats” and Robert Smith’s pals hitting the jazz lounge for “Cocoon.” Truth be told, Siouxsie went back to the jazz well the following year for a great cover of “Right Now” with The Creatures. The band really rise to the occasion and the piano bears a very strong whiff of Mike Garson’s work on “Aladdin Sane.” For the record, I would say that the New Wave Of British Jazz Pop began only a year earlier, so there was something appealing to rock sensibilities by jazz across the spectrum at that point in time.

siouxsie+thebanshees - slowdiveUK12AThe second and final single from the album closes the program. “Slowdive” begins tensely with a single string plucked repeatedly with the violins entering the soundstage most tentatively as Steve Severin plays double bass on this track and the track finally takes off at the 0:40 mark. The rhythm for this track is largely kept by the violins and the ending of the song sounds like a premature fade to my ears. It’s a strange track for a single choice since the tune’s poise keeps it largely immobilized. It doesn’t propel like the usual Banshees music. Still, it’s a wonderful stasis to lose oneself in.

The nine cuts on this album clock in at a relatively brief 37 minutes and the variety in the approach from track to track insures that each song is a memorable part of a whole that is nonetheless stretched to the breaking point with the inclusion of such disparate songs as “Obsession” or “Cocoon.” The singles are intriguing sidesteps, not in the least pandering to the group’s fanbase, and what would have been singles earlier are saved for album cuts this time ’round! All of these songs definitely leave me wanting more! Only “Circle” crosses the five minute mark with most of these tracks well under four minutes in length. My first rule in the book of this business called show is to always leave ’em wanting more. This album, in 2013 absolutely does. Mea Culpa! My adoration of this album is triggering a Siouxsie compilation event. It may be time to get all of the remixes compiled for a REVO edition since the “Downside Up” box so capably took care of the B-sides.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Record Review: Siouxsie + The Banshees – A Kiss In The Dreamhouse

  1. Echorich says:

    Welcome, finally, to another edition of Albums That Can Change Your Life! After JuJu, I thought, what else can this band do but stumble. I was SO happy to be wrong. A Kiss In The Dreamhouse is SATB unbridled. No one telling them what to do and know exactly what they need to do. Green Fingers and Painted Bird are all McGeoch! Siouxsie almost steps aside to make room for that massive guitar as it weaves through the songs. And when I say massive, JMcG’s guitars were never massive as in RAWK YA SOX OFF!, the were massive in that they invade you and take over. I could go on about Slowdive, Melt! and She’s A Carnival…suffice to say that each of these songs is a mini movie waiting to be made.
    AKITD is the rabbithole that I fell down into their Dream World. Not sure I’ve ever really crawled back out.


  2. If your goal was to make me want to listen to this enchanting album again, you succeeded.


  3. fcallen says:

    The start of Slowdive isn’t a single plucked string but rather Severin strumming a Squier Bass VI (six-string bass) with his left hand muting the strings in a couple of different places. That’s the only bass instrument on it – no double bass.


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