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Goth ’n’ roll
Siouxsie of the Banshees brings her Creatures back to life

Hái! (Sanctuary), the latest album from the Creatures, is their fourth. Which wouldn’t be a big deal except that frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux and drummer Budgie formed the band 22 years ago. Of course, the duo have had other commitments — namely, leading one of the most influential bands to emerge from Britain’s punk-rock class of ’77. The now defunct neo-goth group Siouxsie and the Banshees, who came together in 1976, were responsible for a string of British hits that created the foundation for what’s now called "goth": "Hong Kong Garden," "Cities in Dust," and their sole US Top 40 entry, "Kiss Them for Me." With her distinctive swooping vocal delivery, commanding visual presence, and frenetic stage performances, Siouxsie created a style that’s still a compelling post-punk template — just check out the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — while leading a band who remained relevant enough to be handpicked as a main-stage act for the first Lollapalooza back in ’91.

The Creatures, on the other hand, were an accident. It was 1981, the Banshees were recording their fourth album, Juju (Geffen), and guitarist John McGeoch and bassist Steve Severin had ducked out when Siouxsie and Budgie were inspired to write a new tune. "It was literally a tea break," Siouxsie recalls over the phone from her publicist’s office in NYC. Everyone agreed that the song — "But Not Them" — sounded fine sans bass and guitar. So when the Banshees wound up with an excess of material for Juju, Siouxsie and Budgie knocked out four more tunes over a weekend and issued them on the double seven-inch Wild Things EP (Polydor), using the Creatures moniker.

On paper, a percussion/vocals duo might not appear to have much pop promise. But to Siouxsie, pairing voice with percussion still seems perfectly natural. "I’ve always found it easy to respond to the drums on their own. Even with the early Banshees material, the drums were very up front, right with the guitar."

On Hái! (Japanese for "Yes!"), she has not one but two drummers to interact with. Whereas other Creatures albums have tinkered with the original blueprint — 1989’s Boomerang (Polydor) added brass, 1999’s Anima Animus (Polydor) flirted with electronic dance music — the arrangements on their latest recall the stripped-down sound of that first EP and of 1983’s Feast (Polydor). This return to form was prompted by the addition of Leonard Eto, a principal member of Japan’s taiko drum masters Kodo. The Creatures hooked up with Eto by chance when Budgie was in Japan for the Banshees’ 2002 "Seven Year Itch" reunion tour. "I was really nervous," Budgie, a long-time Kodo fan, recalls of their first meeting, which took place at a recording studio. But as the two began improvising and the tape rolled, a natural momentum built; the joy on both players’ faces is visible in the DVD footage from the session included with the expanded edition of Hái!

Siouxsie admits that it took a lot of self-control to sit back and watch. "I had to really restrain myself from demanding that they set up a microphone for me. But I realize that if I had [started singing], the magic of the moment might have been lost." As soon as she and Budgie, who were married in 1991, returned home to France, she set to writing lyrics — informed by Japanese sources ranging from Godzilla to Akira Kurosawa’s 1951 film Ikiru — in a flurry of inspiration. As the couple shaped the highlights from the Tokyo tapes into songs, vocals and additional instrumentation were added quickly, in keeping with the spontaneity of the source material.

Like the best work of both the Creatures and Kodo, Hái! marries strength and delicacy. The title opener explodes with the thunderous rumblings of the taiko; they’re framed by Budgie’s lighter textures. When the tempo slows on "Imagoró," Eto’s big drum sounds like a giant heartbeat; meanwhile a multi-tracked Siouxsie moans like a chorus of damned monks. There are quieter moments too: "Tourniquet," with its gently rippling marimba, and the mesmerizing "City Island," whose lyric, as simple and elegant as a line drawing, is delivered with pillow-talk intimacy.

The Creatures plan to tour in support of Hái! early next year. But they’re already at work on another album, one that was interrupted by the "Seven Year Itch" tour. Budgie is reluctant to reveal particulars, but he does mention his new-found interest in using vintage synthesizers — "heavy, analog ones like D.A.F. and Kraftwerk used" — and making field recordings of the London subways. He also promises that fans won’t have to wait through another circadian cycle to hear the finished product. Honest.

Issue Date: November 28 - December 4, 2003
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