Pride Lands Online


A review of Hyaena by Siouxie and the Banshees

It's quiet. Much more so than usual. Dave is off this weekend visiting his parents in New Hampshire and, as is his custom, he brought Buddy and Holly with him. "You, Nick, and Renfield need to guard the apartment while I'm gone," Dave said. "Nobody'll want to break in with big old plushie Nick sitting there. He'd frighten away the boldest thief, I'd think."

My sweet, darling Nicky--he's only fearsome when somebody speaks critically of great artists such as Van Gogh, Beethoven, or Hitchcock. In fact, if the intruder wanted to discuss the aesthetics of form in 20th century music with him, Nick would probably give the silverware over personally to the bandit and send him on his merry way with a smile and hearty handshake.

Nick and Renfield decided to watch the Panthers/Cowboys playoff football game on that Sunday afternoon, so I was truly left alone. Not that I mind, as long as there's something to do. I went to the window and looked outside. But oh, it's dreary and drizzly. A walk is simply impossible now. That will never do. Ah well, some music perhaps? The stereo sits patiently against the wall, waiting to spin its magic just for me.

What to listen to today? Maybe Siouxie and the Banshees; I haven't heard any of their music in a long while. They're an intriguing band that has managed to find many takes on eloquent bleakness. If Shenzi from The Lion King were a recording artist, she would surely be like Siouxie Sioux--someone able to find beauty and variety in the bleached bones and craggy bluffs of a graveyard wasteland. The group has many different styles to choose from within these confines:

1. pure primitive punk, very stark, unadorned, foreboding, and often humorless. The Scream and Join Hands are good examples. The most infamous song from this early period is a long, grim, highly improvisatory setting of "The Lord's Prayer."

2. unusual, highly experimental albums, such as Kaleidoscope and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.

3. somewhat more tuneful, yet still undeniably odd records such as Tinderbox, Hyaena, and Juju. These albums contain some of the band's best work.

4. a curious disc of cover songs, including numbers by Television, The Doors, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, and oddest of all, a smoothly bewitching version of Kaa's song "Trust in Me" from Disney's The Jungle Book.

My choice was Hyaena. Oddly enough, there is no mention of this animal in any of the song's lyrics, though the album cover sports a colorful cubist-style hyena that would make Picasso proud. The album's penultimate song, "Pointing Bone," does make mention of jackals and jaguars, though. In fact, this song illustrates the desolate, highly impressionistic lyrics the group prefers to set to music:

From the fury pit, a reek of misery
Like a trumpet groan, tornado moan
The splendor splits like a golden skin
He and the wizards cry like hummingbirds
In treasure glows, your weeping wings
And a slaughter grins, on a pleasure spike

When held high by the riverside
Like a torn-throat child
In a jackal's hide
Cool water dies, vile diamond eyes
Silent in flamingo ease
Distant in troubled trance
Within a whirlpool, we're breaking our backs
The tears of the moon
The sweat of the sun
Sacrificial hearts for a pointing bone

With a gorgon's head and a coat of skulls
They're kindling fires in open wounds
Pointing bone
In a jaguar skin, bloodmatted mane
Beacons blaze toward a waiting moon.

To quote a line from an old Buffalo Springfield song, "There's something happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear." But it describes a bleak world I hope I never have to experience. It's the stuff of my worst nightmares, the things that steal your breath in the night, like a creature from a Fuseli painting.

Enough! First up is a truly wonderful song, the album's best. "Dazzle" begins and ends with an impassioned, yearning string orchestra passage that suggests Sibelius with its terse, eloquent melodic snippet and crisscross undulating accompaniment textures. A vocal and rhythm track is then superimposed on this carpet of sound--and what a fine tune it is, one of striving desperation. Imagine Dan Fogelberg's "Netherlands" if it had guts or a decent, punchy melody. It's a hard song to forget, one that reaches down to a deep place in my subconscious.

"We Hunger" is nervously energetic with chaotic drums. There is a desolation in this number that suggests a more uptempo version of some songs by the group Joy Division. This fine selection is unfortunately marred by an oddly abrupt ending.

Bouncy, understated, creepy, with a curiously empty feel. The song "Take Me Back" is all these contradictions rolled into one intriguing package. Its curious, organ-dominated arrangement is most unusual sounding and highly effective.

The next selection, "Belladonna," boasts a tune that is almost poppy and hummable, a simple and static, yet somehow slightly eerie melody. The arrangement, for synthesizer and woodwinds, is very inventive. A nervous beat propels the selection forward.

"Swimming Horses" is also tuneful in its own bizarre way. The refrain in particular is hauntingly memorable. This is perhaps the most traditionally arranged of all the songs on this album, yet even here the band tinkers with the standard pop scoring machinery. The piano plays a clipped and simple figure that sounds almost like a funhouse version of a high-schooler's accompaniment to "Heart and Soul."

Side two begins with a cover of a Beatles song from the so-called White Album, "Dear Prudence." This version unfortunately serves to underscore the band's weaknesses. The arrangement, a very strange mix of poppiness and psychedelia, is okay. But Sioux's vocal here is wan and ineffective. And the excellence of this melody shows that Siouxie and her mates, while able tunesmiths, do not produce melodious work on a level with that of top-shelf songwriters like Lennon/McCartney. To be fair, one can easily argue, "Who does?" And the answer would have to be, "Almost no one."

"Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man" is nervously jittery, darkly hypnotic, brooding, and quite static. The guitar sound here owes much to R.E.M. and The Byrds--if it were filtered through an Arabian sieve, that is. The vocal line clashes strongly with its accompaniment at times. I frankly wonder if the tune is really meant to be so dissonant or whether the mix is simply out of tune here.

"Belladonna"'s twin sister is found next in "Running Town." The piano and woodwind arrangement used is very close to that of this earlier song, but here guitar is more prominently featured. This selection is more nervously driving than "Belladonna" and in places suggests the gutsy songs of the Los Angeles band X.

The previously cited lyrics to "Pointing Bone" are set to an incantory, almost inert melody which is urged forward by propulsive drums and surrounded by swirling paisley guitars. The effect here is both odd and very striking.

"Blow the House Down" closes this imaginative album in a most unusual fashion. This curious song is set up in A-B-A-B format, with "A" sections slow and trancelike, "B" sections twice as fast and very Near Eastern sounding. The song is quite lengthy (not too long, though) and well worth hearing. It's certainly not standard pop music, for sure--if Michael Jackson or Boston are your ideas of progressive rock, this will sound like music from Mars.

The record is over. It's raining harder now, and darkness is falling. No self-respecting plushie would dare venture out now. Perhaps tomorrow will be nicer and I can go for a walk then. Nick is scrounging up some ginger beer and nacho chips for the second half of the game. "Go Panthers!" squeaks Renfield. No company to be had there, it seems. I think I'll dig out that Siouxie album of cover songs and listen to "Trust in Me" again. And then I'll give Juju and Tinderbox a spin. Looks like it will be a bleak, Banshees kind of day. I'll make the best of it.


(transcribed by David Cleary)

{Submitted by Dave C.}
{HTML by Thumper}

The Pride Lands Online Multi-Media Archive


Geffen Records GHS24030

Track selection

1. Dazzle6. Dear Prudence
2. We Hunger7. Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man
3. Take Me Back8. Running Town
4. Belladonna9. Pointing Bone
5. Swimming Horses10. Blow the House Down

All lyrics and music written by Siouxie and the Banshees, copyright 1984 by Chappell Music Co./A.P.B.; except track 4, copyright by Chappell Music Co.; and track 6, written by Lennon/McCartney, copyright 1968 by Maclen Music.