It took Siouxsie Sioux nearly thirty years to complete her first, full-length solo album, but boy, was it ever worth the wait. To be fair, Siouxsie didn’t take the Axl Rose Chinese Democracy route to finishing and releasing Mantaray, because unlike the Guns n’ Roses frontman, Siouxsie actually released her album. Rather, it took a culmination of nearly 30 years worth of musical and life experience to produce what obviously sounds like a labor of love and the sparkling result of decades of growth as an artist.
During the mid-to-late-‘70s, Siouxsie and the Banshees burst onto the scene with a blend of punky goth that was the alternative to alternative punk. A darker shade of Art House, Siouxsie and the Banshees stamped their influence on the likes of the Cure (lead singer Robert Smith served a very brief tenure with the Banshees before going on to legendary status with his own band) and Shirley Manson of Garbage, whose own vocals share a number of similarities with those of Siouxsie Sioux.
After the Banshees disbanded, Siouxsie and drummer Budgie (her husband then) made their part-time project the Creatures a full-time endeavor. Ironically enough, although she had never done any solo material on her own, throughout the mid-‘90s and onward, Siouxsie appeared as a guest collaborator with such artists as Morrissey, Marc Almond, and Basement Jaxx.
Fast-forwarding several years later, Siouxsie’s voice sounds almost exactly the same as it did at the Banshees’ inception. Not needing much improvement to begin with, time has not taken its toll on her vocals. Powerful and terribly beautiful at the same time, Siouxsie’s intonation bears a fine layer of grit underlying a rich patina of elegance. While they’ve ripened slightly, the most significant improvement on Siouxsie’s already fine set of pipes is the richness of meaning packed into her dark, deliberate delivery and phrasing.
Mantaray‘s production team of Steve Evans and Charlie Jones take up guitar and bass duties, respectively, in addition to the synth programming that fills out the disc. This makeshift band on Siouxsie’s solo outing sounds fuller, heavier, and darker—a sharp departure from the much more stripped-down, punk-bordering-on-New Wave sound of the Banshees or the low-fi, drum-driven, art house tribalism of the Creatures. The resulting eclectic mix of rock, industrial, jazz, and even vaguely dance/trip-hop sound of Mantaray can best be termed under the umbrella of “angry pop”, while searching for a common thread to bind this bizarre union together. Several unusual combinations pop up on the disc. Spiced with a horn section, “Here Comes That Day” is subtly influenced by jazz and cabaret while “Drone Zone” continues that vibe with Siouxsie channeling Carol Channing as she vacillates between almost Broadway-like, heavy alto vocal affectations and light, airy intonations.
Unmistakably feminine despite the deep, melodic snarl to her vocals, Siouxsie is without a doubt the driving force of this album. Powerful, gritty, and personal, the lyrics and delivery growlingly echo the sound of a woman coming into her own and rediscovering herself after having been entrenched in a long relationship. A metamorphosis of sorts is marked by the disc’s opening track and lead single, the mildly industrial “Into a Swan”. Possessed of a winding groove of distorted guitars, there is a dance-like quality to “Into a Swan”, which is aided by the tribal drums and bongos that feature prominently. Continuing the theme of evolution through pain, some of the tracks such as the retro-sounding “Loveless” and torch song swagger of “If It Doesn’t Kill You” may be allusions to the dissolution of Siouxsie’s 1991 marriage to Budgie, which ended in 2007. Easily a standout track on Mantaray, “Loveless” is drenched in bass-centric, steadily chugging power chords that beat a path of Middle Eastern flavoring amidst the heavy guitar and synth blend. Siouxsie’s vocals are top notch on this piece, conveying weary resignation, anger, disappointment, and an aura of soldiering on in the search for greener pastures.
The whole of Mantaray is a benchmark achievement for a woman who has already cemented her status as an icon. This time, Siouxsie further galvanizes her reputation by going it alone and emerging as an even more powerful force to be reckoned with.