The Scream (album)

The Scream is the debut studio album by British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was released in November 1978 on Polydor. The album is considered a landmark recording: its innovative combination of bass led rhythm and angular guitar with motorik drums played mostly on toms, would make it a pioneering work of the post-punk genre.

The Scream
Siouxsie & the Banshees-The Scream.jpg
Studio album by
Released13 November 1978
RecordedAugust 1978
StudioRAK, London
GenrePost-punk
Length39:04
LabelPolydor
Producer
Siouxsie and the Banshees chronology
The Scream
(1978)
Join Hands
(1979)

The Scream was met with widespread acclaim and was hailed by critics as an original musical development in rock music. The Scream has also been cited as a key influence on a number of succeeding post-punk, and alternative rock acts, including Joy Division, Killing Joke, Steve Albini, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Faith no More and Massive Attack.

BackgroundEdit

In late 1977 and early 1978, Siouxsie and the Banshees received major press coverage but failed to secure a recording deal. A fan undertook a graffiti campaign in London, spraying the walls of the major record companies with the words "Sign the Banshees: do it now".[1] Polydor finally signed them in June.[2]

John McKay had become the band's guitarist in July 1977; music historian Clinton Heylin argued that the recruitment of McKay along with the formation of Magazine and PiL between August 1977 and May 1978 marked the "true starting-point for English post-punk".[3] Several songs from The Scream had already been recorded on BBC Radio 1 for two John Peel sessions: "Mirage", "Metal Postcard" and "Suburban Relapse" premiered in November 1977, and "Overground" and "Carcass" were aired three months later in February 1978. When recording their first Peel session, Siouxsie Sioux and bassist Steven Severin had described their music as "cold, machine-like and passionate at the same time". Music journalist Vivien Goldman wrote: "Siouxsie and the Banshees sound like a 21st century industrial plant".[4]

Recording and musicEdit

The Scream was recorded in one week during August 1978, and mixed in three weeks with Steve Lillywhite co-producing.[5] The band was in the studio while their debut single "Hong Kong Garden" was released.[6] Lillywhite was recruited because he recorded the drums in a different way. He asked drummer Kenny Morris to play the bass drum and the snare drum first. Then he did the cymbals and the tom-toms later.[7] Journalist Kris Needs noted that Lillywhite used "deep echo" on drums.[5]

J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs provided the reference points for the lyrics of The Scream.[8] In a track such as "Suburban Relapse", the band wrote about suburbia, where they were born and raised. Severin emphasized: "That's why J.G. Ballard resonated so much with us, because all his near-future tales were set in this bizarre suburban wasteland. Suburbia is a place where you can imagine any kind of possibility, because there's space, not urban clutter".[9]

Music historian Simon Goddard described the music on The Scream as a "claustrophobic abyss of angst and angularity", saying it was part of a triptych of albums layering the foundations of post-punk.[10] The opening cut, "Pure", had a spacious, atmospheric sound. Journalist Miranda Sawyer noted that Siouxsie's "vocals came from a distance", that "there was a lot of space" and that "the sound was big and slow".[8] Music journalist Ian Birch wrote that "Pure" was an atmosphere piece; "a snarling, predatory bass stalks its ground before it's met by teeth-grinding guitar splinters, and the distant footfall of drums. Siouxsie's voice becomes an instrument."[11] Music journalist Kris Needs remarked that at the end, it seeps out into "Jigsaw Feeling", a "song of disorientation and bewilderment" with a "huge, sometimes awe-inspiring sound".[5] On "Metal Postcard", there is a "motorik austerity" in the rhythm patterns.[12] The last song, "Switch", was arranged in three different sections, "for the different people who swap jobs with terrible results - scientists, general practitioner and vicar".[5]

McKay co-wrote most of the songs. Only "Carcass" dated from the band's time with Peter Fenton, their guitarist from January to July 1977.[13] Siouxsie wanted the Banshees' music to be "cinematic"; Bernard Herrmann's score to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho inspired the music of "Suburban Relapse", where the guitars echo the knife-screeching violins of the famous shower scene.[14] Joy Division's drummer Stephen Morris noted in his autobiography that the Banshees used "the bass-led rhythm" and their drummer "Kenny Morris played mostly toms".[15]

Title and sleeveEdit

The title of the album was in part inspired by the 1968 film The Swimmer (starring Burt Lancaster), in which main character, Neddy Merrill, intended to swim home, using open-air pools. Climbing over garden fences, from pool to pool, his journey put him into a state of mental and physical exhaustion, and in the end, Goddard said, "all Neddy Merrill could think to do was scream, [...] as a scream of exhausted jubilance after a troubled, arduous journey".[16]

The idea for the cover was Siouxsie's. Photographer Paul Wakefield met with her and the band to discuss the project. Wakefield later said:

"The idea was to shoot disquieting and unnerving images underwater in a swimming pool – you can't scream underwater. I wanted to be able to completely control the lighting, and so an indoor pool was the only option. I scouted quite a few pools, but when I saw this pool in the YMCA in Central London, which was dark blue tiled with light blue lane stripes instead of the normal reverse colors, I knew it was the ideal location. I wanted to give it an eerie underwater night-time feel, and this setting was perfect. We used a number of 1000K and 2000K lights around the pool edge. I used school kids as models and they pretty well ran riot."[17]

ReleaseEdit

More than one month prior to its release, DJ John Peel broadcast the album on BBC radio 1 from an advance copy on a cassette, from the beginning to end, with no interruptions. "That's the one boys and girls,' he says when it's over. 'That's the one.'"[18]

The Scream was released on 13 November 1978. It was an almost instant commercial success, peaking at No. 12 on the UK Albums Chart.[19]

The Scream was reissued in the UK on 27 October 2005 as part of Universal's Deluxe Edition series. The new edition featured a remastered version of the album on the first disc, while the second disc contained demo and live tracks together with the singles from that period. A single-disc edition of the reissue was released in 2007.

In November 2016, a vinyl picture disc edition was released, mastered from the original tapes by Kevin Metcalfe.[20] A 180g vinyl reissue of the original edition, mastered from the original ¼ inch tapes and cut half-speed at Abbey Road Studios by Miles Showell, was released in September 2018.[21] A blue vinyl edition, limited to 1,000 copies, was released in 2018 for the 40th anniversary of the album, on indie only record stores' websites.[22]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [23]
Christgau's Record GuideB+[24]
Mojo (2005 deluxe edition)     [25]
Q (2005 deluxe edition)     [26]
Record Mirror     [27]
Sounds     [28]
Uncut (2005 deluxe edition)     [29]

The Scream was named "the best debut album of the year" by Sounds.[30] Reviewer Peter Silverton gave the album 5 stars out of 5,[28] and the paper listed it at No. 2 in its end-of-year best album list.[31] Record Mirror also published a 5-star review, saying: The Scream "points to the future, real music for the new age. [...] It is vital, it's moving. It's a ... landmark." Chris Westwood praised the cohesion between the words and the music: "The album's lyrical frame of mind is perfectly reflected in the work of [guitarist] McKay. [Bassist] Severin and [drummer] Morris; constantly shifting, restless, controlled aggression, they are as essential as Siouxsie."[27] Melody Maker described the sound as "strong, abrasive, visceral and constantly inventive, with a thrust that makes the spaces equal partners to the notes", with the critic comparing the album's textures to that of Wire and Pere Ubu.[11] ZigZag qualified it as a "magnificent record", with reviewer Kris Needs writing: "I can't think of another group who could have made an LP so uncompromising, powerful and disturbing, yet so captivating and enjoyable [...] It is certainly a special classic to join milestones like [David Bowie's] Diamond Dogs, Roxy [Music]'s first and [Lou Reed's] Berlin. This is music of such strength and vision that you just can't not be moved by the time they swing into the final climactic passage of 'Switch', the closing track." Needs qualified the sound as "huge, sometimes awe-inspiring" and commented that drummer Morris created "one of the best drum sounds I've ever heard – the deep echo and floor-shuddering mix accentuating his muted Glitter Band stomp".[5] Critic Adam Sweeting began his review by saying, "This is a chilling, intense masterpiece". Sweeting then noted that the musicians "have perfected a group sound which is powerful but streamlined", adding that "the words and music combine to produce coolly dazzling images".[32]

Several journalists from NME also praised the record. Nick Kent first stated that the band sounded "like some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of Tago Mago-era Can." He then focused his attention on the opening track, saying: "Pure" "takes the sound to its ultimate juncture, leaving spaces that say as much as the notes being played. Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results."[33] In December 1978, another critic from NME, Paul Morley, described the music on The Scream as "unlike anything in rock":

It is not, as some would say, chaotic – it is controlled. Each instrument operates within its own space, its own time, as if mocking the lines of other instruments. Known rock is inverted, leaving just traces of mimickry of rock's cliches – satire that often bursts with glorious justification into shaking celebration (as on "Helter Skelter"). It is easy to gain attention by doing something which is crudely obviously out of the ordinary, but the Banshees have avoided such futile superficialities: it is innovation, not revolution, not a destruction but new building. It has grown out of rock – Velvets, Station to Station, Bolan. And Siouxsie's staggering voice is dropped, clipped, snapped prominently above this audacious musical drama, emphasizing the dark colours and empty, naked moods.[34]

However, in her review of the album, NME's Julie Burchill was unimpressed, stating that the Banshees sound was "a self-important threshing machine thrashing all stringed instruments down onto the same low level alongside that draggy sub-voice as it attempts futile eagle and dove swoops around the mono-beat. Their sound is certainly different from the normal guitar-bass-drums-voice consequence. But it’s radically stodgy [...] loud, heavy and levelling, the sound of suet pudding".[35]

Kurt Loder gave a very favourable review in Rolling Stone, remarking that The Scream was a "striking debut album"; and that its "sound, stark though fully realized (thanks partly to a most simpatico co-producer, Steve Lillywhite), is lent added intellectual dimension by a series of disturbingly ambiguous lyrical images".[36] The 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave a 4 out 5 rating, with the comment: "Even if you can't figure out exactly what makes Siouxsie wail the way she does, The Scream creates a rich, claustrophobic maelstrom of crude sound and half-submerged feelings."[37]

During a BBC radio show, David Bowie mentioned a concert of the group given after their release of their first album: "I saw you Siouxsie and you were really excellent [...] I was clutching my copy of The Scream".[38]

LegacyEdit

Record Mirror's Ronnie Gurr wrote that "The Scream, a masterpiece that, for six months, I failed to recognise as such, was a harrowing listening experience."[39] Since its release, The Scream has received a number of accolades from the music press. NME rated it at No. 58 in their "Writers All Time 100 Albums" list in 1985.[40] Don Watson of NME described the album's music as "something that whipped the past into a great whirlpool of noise, pulling the future down".[41] Uncut magazine placed it at No. 43 in their list of the 100 greatest debut albums.[42] It was featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[43] In 2006, the music critic Garry Mulholland included it in his book Fear of Music about the 261 greatest albums since 1976.[44] In 2007, Record Collector wrote that "it stands as one of the great debut albums from any era".[45] In 2017, Q included it in their list of "the debut albums that changed music" with "revolutionnary sounds".[46]

The Scream placed the group among the pioneers of post-punk, as peer Robert Smith of the Cure contended:

"When The Scream came out, I remember it was much slower than everybody thought. It was like the forerunner of the Joy Division sound. It was just big-sounding."[47]

The Scream has been influential on a large number of genres and artists. Joy Division's Peter Hook, who saw the group in concert in Manchester in 1977,[48] said about The Scream: "Siouxsie And The Banshees were one of our big influences [...] The Banshees first LP was one of my favourite ever records, the way the guitarist and the drummer played was a really unusual way of playing and this album showcases a landmark performance."[49] Joy Division's drummer Stephen Morris said: "The banshees had that [...] foreboding sound, sketching out the future from the dark of the past".[15] Geordie Walker of Killing Joke praised McKay's guitar playing and sound : "on The Scream, [...] he came out with these chord structures that I found very refreshing. The guy's been ripped off so much, he started that flanged chord thing".[50] Steve Albini praised guitarist John McKay for the noise created : "The Scream is notable for a few things: only now people are trying to copy it, and even now nobody understands how that guitar player (you know, the one who's been replaced by everyone in England) got all that pointless noise to stick together as songs". and further added: "good noise guitar is like an orgasm."[51] While playing his favourite records on BBC Radio 6 Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain commented: "'Jigsaw Feeling' from The Scream album [...] it was brilliant, amazing. That's a reason why I made music".[52] Morrissey had "Mirage" played during intermission before all concerts of his 1991's Kill Uncle tour.[53] Massive Attack covered and sampled "Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)" on their song "Superpredators (Metal Postcard)" in 1997 for the soundtrack to the movie The Jackal.[54] Morrissey's main composer, Boz Boorer, also rated The Scream highly, ranking it second in his "Top Five Desert Island Album Selection".[55] Boorer stated: "Another big influence on my playing is John McKay [...]. That first Siouxsie record was quite incredible sounding, and it started me in thinking that music didn’t have to be any certain way—that there could be many different influences in music and it didn’t have to be a single, strict avenue. That first Banshees album has a lot of jarring guitar that rubs against what you’d think was going to or maybe should happen over a part, and that changed my thinking quite a bit".[56] Faith No More covered "Switch" in concert[57] and cited this first Siouxsie and the Banshees' album as one of their influences.[58] Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson cited it as one of her all-time favourite records.[59] The Scream was also hailed by the singer of Suede, Brett Anderson.[60] Marc Almond of Soft Cell also explained why the songs mattered to him: "The Scream made a real impression on me. I loved the way they turned these suburban things into nightmares--that was a great influence on early Soft Cell stuff".[61] Tracey Thorn of Everything but the Girl remembered 1978 as an important music year. "Back then when I only had five or six records I'd listen to each of them over and over, knowing every beat, every word, every scratch. Elvis Costello's My Aim is True, The Scream by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam's In the City, Moving Targets by Penetration, and Another Music in a Different Kitchen by Buzzcocks.[62]

Track listingEdit

Side A
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Pure" Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, John McKay, Kenny Morris1:50
2."Jigsaw Feeling"SeverinSeverin, McKay4:39
3."Overground"SeverinMcKay3:50
4."Carcass"Siouxsie, SeverinSiouxsie, Peter Fenton3:49
5."Helter Skelter"John Lennon, Paul McCartneyLennon, McCartney3:46
Side B
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
6."Mirage"SeverinMcKay2:50
7."Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)"SiouxsieMcKay4:14
8."Nicotine Stain"SiouxsieSeverin2:58
9."Suburban Relapse"SiouxsieMcKay4:12
10."Switch"SiouxsieMcKay6:49
2006 CD remastered reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
11."Hong Kong Garden" (7" A-side)SiouxsieSiouxsie, Severin, McKay, Morris2:55
12."The Staircase (Mystery)" (7" A-side)SiouxsieSiouxsie, Severin, McKay, Morris3:15
2005 CD remastered Deluxe Edition bonus disc
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Make Up to Break Up" (Riverside session) Siouxsie, Severin, Fenton 
2."Love in a Void" (John Peel Session 1)SeverinSiouxsie, Severin, Fenton 
3."Mirage" (John Peel Session 1)   
4."Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)" (John Peel Session 1)   
5."Suburban Relapse" (John Peel Session 1)   
6."Hong Kong Garden" (John Peel Session 2)   
7."Overground" (John Peel Session 2)   
8."Carcass" (John Peel Session 2)   
9."Helter Skelter" (John Peel Session 2)   
10."Metal Postcard" (Pathway demo)   
11."Suburban Relapse" (Pathway demo)   
12."The Staircase (Mystery)" (Pathway demo)   
13."Mirage" (Pathway demo)   
14."Nicotine Stain" (Pathway demo)   
15."Hong Kong Garden" (7" Single Version)   
16."The Staircase (Mystery)" (7" Single Version)   

ChartsEdit

Chart (1979/80) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[63] 36
United Kingdom (Official Charts Company) 12

PersonnelEdit

Siouxsie and the Banshees
Technical

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Mark Paytress (2003). Siouxsie and the Banshees: The Authorised Biography. Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN 1860743757.
  2. ^ Heylin 2006, p. 461.
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Sources
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  • Paytress, Mark (2003). Siouxsie and the Banshees: The Authorised Biography. Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN 1860743757.