[19 January 2003]
If any band is worthy of the “best of” or “greatest hits” packages that have become so prevalent in the past few years it has to be Siouxsie and the Banshees. In its 20-year career, the group produced 11 studio albums, 18 Top 40 singles in the UK and one (“Kiss Them for Me”) in the US, and gave birth to the goth rock movement while putting out material that far surpassed that constrictive label. With such an impressive, diverse, and commercially successful body of work behind them, not to mention a reunion for a short tour last year, Siouxsie and the Banshees are one of the few bands for which a comprehensive anthology is truly necessary. The only hitch is that their career was already summarized quite nicely before the release of The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees—on the 1981 singles collection Once Upon a Time and its 1992 sequel Twice Upon a Time. So why the new compilation? It’s not the band trying to cash in; drummer Budgie told me during an interview last August that their tour probably would have benefited from a corresponding new release but the band didn’t know about one when they set the dates. If anyone is cashing in on the reunion, it’s Universal, which gained control of the Banshees’ back catalog after their label, Geffen, folded.
What the label has come up with is a skimpy single disc with uninformative, typo-laden liner notes and bad art that will only appeal to the demographic of extremely casual fans who want the “big hits” but not the deeper (and sometimes more experimental) album tracks. This is a collection for those who only know “Peek-a-Boo”, “Face to Face”, and “Kiss Them for Me”—a group we Siouxsie fans referred to in high school as “poseurs”. That doesn’t mean there is any valid argument against the material that made it onto The Best Of; the songs are great, from the seminal punk single “Hong Kong Garden” to the creepy “Happy House” to the gorgeous “The Killing Jar”. It’s what is not on the disc that is so upsetting—“The Passenger”, “Candyman”, “The Last Beat of My Heart”, and even the oft maligned but somewhat well known “O Baby”.
Ironically though, the one thing that The Best Of achieves that the previous singles compilations did not is an emphasis on singles—or more precisely, on individual songs. Because they were organized chronologically and by certain eras in the Banshees’ career, Once Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time flowed logically and demonstrated the band’s musical progression. With its non-chronological and somewhat haphazard sequencing, The Best Of provides no sense of the Banshees’ history or development, and listening to the group’s songs in such a context proves that, despite their goth image, the Banshees were capable of writing and recording memorable, highly listenable pop songs. But this is a side of the band that many fans won’t want to remember and is certainly not the whole story. Then again, anyone seeking out this disc doesn’t want to look at the big picture.
For semi-casual fans who already have the Upon a Time collections the new compilation will be redundant, but it has a few things to offer Banshees completists. The remastering sounds wonderful, especially on “Cities in Dust”, where some interesting percussion work is brought up in the mix for the first time. Also, the group’s final recording, a pretty 1997 track called “Dizzy”, appears for the first time here. A limited edition version of The Best Of includes a bonus disc of several out-of-print remixes, and the steamy “Cities in Dust (Eruption Mix)” and the beautiful and somewhat rare “Song from the Edge of the World (Columbus Mix)” alone make the extra disc worthwhile. What would be more interesting, though—and is in the works—is a collection of the Banshees’ B-sides, which are where the band flaunted its weird, wild, and scary side. With the band’s status still up in the air (they haven’t decided whether the reunion will extend to the recording studio), this is the only “new”, Banshees-authorized album to which fans can look forward in the near future.