Samantha Bennett, author of the upcoming 33 1/3 on Peepshow, discusses the album’s unique filmic influences and what makes it, in the words of Siouxsie Sioux herself, the band’s “best album.”
Thirty years ago today, Siouxsie and the Banshees released their ninth studio album, Peepshow. Over the course of its career, the band cited film and film music influences in hundreds of interviews. Yet these routine references to cinema were rarely picked up on by journalists, who, at best, would refer to the Banshees’ music as simply ‘filmic’ or ‘cinematic’. From Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (1968) inspiring the band’s debut, The Scream (1978), to the Hitchcockian track “Spellbound” (1981). From the cover of The Sherman Brothers’ “Trust in Me” (1967), taken from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967), on Through the Looking Glass (1987), to the Jane Mansfield-inspired “Kiss them For Me” (1991), this is a band whose love of film has long been ingrained in its repertoire.
Peepshow is a significant record and marked a turning point in Siouxsie and the Banshees’ career. Prior to recording, core members Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin and Budgie recruited ex-Specimen guitarist Jon Klein and Guildhall Conservatory graduate and multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick; Siouxsie and the Banshees were, for the first time, a five-piece. McCarrick’s broad instrumental ability diversified the band’s sonic palette and, as such, guitars were pushed to the background in favour of prominent cello, accordion and hammered dulcimer. In its traversing of classical romanticism, vaudeville, musical theatre, minimalism, jazz, polka and modernism, Peepshow mirrors the quick-fire, back-to-back genre contrasts integral to the work of composer Friedrich Hollaender (The Blue Angel (1930); The 5000 Fingers of Dr T (1953)), whose work was a known influence on the band.
Peepshow is the sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees wearing their film and film music influences on their sleeves. From the topsy-turvy Caligarisme of “Peek-A-Boo” through the epic, war-torn stages of “The Last Beat of My Heart” and “Rhapsody”; from the proto-cinematic amusement park locality of “Carousel” through the unnerving, regressive horror of “Rawhead and Bloodybones”, Peepshow is Siouxsie and the Banshees at the movies.
Despite Peepshow being the Banshees’ most commercially successful record to date – “Peek-A-Boo” reached number 1 on the Billboard Alternative Charts – it was by no means the definitive Banshees record. Nor can it be considered a classic Banshees record. Yet in its diverse orchestration, meticulously crafted soundscapes and multi-layered feature protagonists, Peepshow was Siouxsie and the Banshees’ most musically accomplished, conceptually realized record. And, as Sioux herself said, ‘Our best album. Full stop.’