I always knew where to find new music. Sometimes, that new music came from old bands long since gone. As a teenager in search of a perspective grander than what I saw outside the window of a council house in Cumbernauld, I’d find myself turning to music and books to give me something that wasn’t there, that I felt was missing. My father (mum’s boyfriend of thirty years) was into post-punk and gloomy 80s bands, so his collection of records and CDs became moments of value. Each time I raided his music stack, I found something else he bought at Bruce’s Record Shop in Glasgow. His main passion will always be The Stranglers, but in amongst the pile, I found something Tinderbox by Siouxsie And The Banshees, back then unknown to me, now one of my absolutely life-defining favourite forces in music ever. There is no such thing as a bad Banshees album. Even their weakest record (that would be Join Hands) is still challenging and exciting, like all punk worth it’s spit should be. But The Banshees were so punk they refused to be categorised, all but inventing and then discarding goth once everyone else turned it into a uniform. For me, there’s also no such thing as a best Banshees album – at least one I can really hold onto, because I keep changing my opinion. Sometimes A Kiss In The Dreamhouse is my favourite. Other nights I’ll swear Hyena is their masterpiece. Kaleidoscope might get in there and refuse to leave. Both Juju and Peepshow has held the honour. Today, it’s Tinderbox.
Tinderbox is the seventh studio album of a band in a state of change. Old members were gone, a new guitarist had arrived in the form of John Valentine Carruthers. Siouxsie, meanwhile, was channeling some of the most confident vocals of her career. Steven Severin knew what he was doing with the lyrics and electronics. Budgie’s drums sound so mighty you can feel them in your tympanic membrane. Tinderbox is a collection of evil fairy tales as told by Siouxsie Sioux to the most luscious music served up in the post-punk era. The cover art shows a hurricane like the one that scooped Dorothy out of Kansas. It hints at turmoil and atmosphere and the inexorable pull of something unfathomable.
Many bands struggled to find themselves after punk. Not all of them survived. The Banshees were always several steps ahead of everyone else and never get half the credit they’re due. For me, Tinderbox was the album that pulled me into their strangely scary yet ultimately beautiful world. It has one of their greatest pop hits, which still sounds amazing even now. Cities In Dust is a retelling of the fate of Pompeii, fire and ash, the eruption of Vesuvius and the fate of the victims caught in the firestorm. It sounds fearsome but also serves as one of their catchiest dance pop moments. The space between horror and hummable was one The Banshees understood better than most.
The songs? Land’s End is a sprawling English ghost story of a song, creepy guitars, chilling atmospherics. It might also be one of the best (or at least underrated) tracks created by The Banshees. Cannons, another highlight of Tinderbox, became my go-to track over a weekend while my parents were away in London and I found obsession with a song. The Sweetest Chill is a beautifully arranged song written about the loss of a loved one and the reassuring chill of their presence. I understand this song better now, though back then, when I was that young, it was just a beautiful pop song. Now I feel it more. Then again, age has really given me a deeper love for The Banshees. More than age. Dark nights, street lights, and rainy Scottish weather help make sense of this album. I’ve bought it on CD and cassette. I’ll get the vinyl soon. Like the ghosts in the songs, Tinderbox is a record with many lives and afterlives.