Siouxsie And The Banshees - Juju - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Siouxsie And The Banshees - Juju

by Jeff Penczak Rating:10 Release Date:1981-06-06
Siouxsie And The Banshees - Juju
Siouxsie And The Banshees - Juju

Some albums stick with you for unusual reasons. They may be “your album” – the album you and a loved one played constantly when you started dating, or the album that contains “your song”. Others may have a familial connection (no matter how bad it is, it’s your kid sister’s favourite album, or one your dad will actually tolerate listening to). Some have a geographical connection or trigger memories of a particularly memorable summer vacation. Juju will forever hold pride of place in my heart, not because it’s arguably one of my favourite band’s best albums and second-biggest seller (behind the previous, patchwork Kaleidoscope, recorded with half a band after their rhythm section bolted following Join Hands amid some weird rumours about satanic death cults and suicide pacts). No, Juju will always be one of my Desert Island Discs for two very important reasons: first, I bought my copy in a record shop on holiday in Amsterdam barely a month after its release in the Summer of 1981, and second, and most importantly, it was during the Juju tour that I met my future wife at the Halloween performance at a club in New York City (itself unforgettable, trading as it did on the back of one of Juju's best-loved tracks). So, yes, Juju holds special memories for personal reasons, but it’s a D.I.D. for the tunes, some of the best the band ever recorded, thanks in no small part for finally actually being a band!

For starters, there’s that weird, unpronounceable title; intentionally stylised in lowercase, no less! Does it rhyme with Ju[ne] and Ju[ly], or was it, as I assumed and thereby requested from the bemused and befuddled shopkeeper, ‘Yoo Yoo’, affecting a faux Dutch accent? Years later I discovered it was closer to the former [“zhoo zhoo”] and reflected its French origins [joujou, ‘plaything’], and referenced some weird West African voodoo shit. Aha! Now titles like ‘Spellbound’, ‘Head Cut’, and ‘Voodoo Dolly’ made all the sense in the world. Well. Sort of. But let’s start at the beginning.

Opening with stalwart bassist [and only lifelong Banshee] Steven Severin’s ominous stalking throb and the razorblade guitar scrapings of new six[string]-shooter John McGeoch (ex-Magazine), ‘Spellbound’ stumbles onto the dancefloor with sinewy, syncopated rhythms and new skinpounder (and Siouxsie’s (also) future mate) Budgie’s [ex-Slits] deafening tribal fodderstomping drumbeat. Shit, by song’s end it sounds like he’s tossed the whole damn kit (and caboodle) down the stairs.

Listen to McGeoch’s guitar lines on ‘Into The Light’ – serpenting around the melody as if sequestered in a separate room playing to the sounds in his head, yet always leaving Siouxsie and Severin enough room to sashay around Budgie’s hiccupping backbeat. And what other goth band would have the fuck-all balls to open their catchiest, most accessible pop song (‘Arabian Nights’) with a prototypical Spector intro, and then add Nazi marching salutes and grunts on top of it all to piss off the radio stations that might have actually considered playing it?

The aforementioned ‘Halloween’ is in a class of its own. McGeoch’s stinging guitar lines, Budgie’s flailing drum snaps, and Siouxsie’s eerie vocal inflections and batshit spooky lyrics (ghosts, “childish murder” and “scorpion eyes”) cannot be soothed by beckoning cried of “Trick or Treat”.

‘Monitor’ is McGeoch’s tour de force – a maelstrom of dirty, fuzzy, slashing runs up and down his guitar neck while Siouxsie screams swirling rollercoaster shrieks of caution about those all-seeing monitors (e.g. CCTV) that supposedly protect us “from those people outside”. And if you think that was scary, wait until the ‘Night Shift’ marches into your lives. OK, so the crowd-pleasing chorus “Fuck the others/Kill the mothers” is a tad over the top (and a Manson reference?), but the phased vocals, Budgie’s death-march drumming and McGeoch’s razor-blade guitar shriek (you can almost feel the knife slice your tender flesh) add up to one of the band’s most tortuous listens – a car crash of a song that cannot quickly be forgotten.

The motorik adrenaline rush of ‘Sin In My Heart’ always had them pogoing in the clubs to the point where it felt like the dancefloor we were standing on would collapse. The album fizzles out towards the end with the overly theatrical ‘Voodoo Dolly’, which is more of a performance piece that often stretched to beyond 10 minutes of Siouxsie down on all fours, stalking the audience like a predatory lioness hunting dinner for the cubs. By the time she, er, climaxes with that whispered “I’m your little voodoo dolly’, well, the audience usually headed for a much-needed bathroom break to clean up their excitement.

Siouxsie’s vocals have never been better – strident, marshalling, commanding attention,  McGeoch essentially invents the post rock guitar template, and Budgie and Severin present the ultimate darkwave rhythm section. Oh, and there’s one more reason this album pays frequent revisits to my turntable – not only did I meet my wife during the Juju tour, but our daughter was born on…yup, Siouxsie’s birthday!

 

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