In 1988, post-punk rockers Siouxsie and the Banshees released their ninth album, Peepshow. Upon release, it was met with widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike and helped to break them in America. 30 years later it’s still their most ambitious, nuanced record to date. It’s also the subject of the latest book in the 33 1/3 series. Instead of delving into making the album, writer Samantha Bennett presents the album in the context of film arguing it represents the movie the band never made.
Using numerous film theories from Laura Mulvey, Kathrin Fahlenbrach, and Paul Allen Anderson, Bennett examines the record song by song and explains how each relates to aspects of film. She talks about the horror influence of “Rawhead and Bloody Bones,” the epic historical context of “The Last Beat of My Heart” and “Rhapsody” and she studies the Wild West influences on “Burn Up.” She gets deep and pulls apart each song, analyzing every musical note, vocal track, and the instrumentation to emphasize her point.
She presents plenty of evidence from quotes to textual examples and film history to sway readers. She even references films like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind and compares events in them to the Banshees’ songs. Looking at the album in terms of film presents the album in a new light and opens up a different avenue for discussion that most reviews miss. It also pinpoints influences and factoids even the most devoted Banshees fan may have missed. Her argument is strong and well researched. With so much forethought and evidence provided it’s easy to agree with Bennett before you finish the book.
Bennett also offers a look at how the band approached writing music in general. Quotes from the Banshees on their favorite films and stories behind the songs are peppered throughout. It not only cements Bennett’s argument, but it also gives you a look at the inner workings of the band. As she explores, the Banshees songs are more complex than they sound. They put a lot of thought into aspects like how things are recorded and when their instruments come in. Every facet is meticulously planned to tie in with the themes they’re referencing. Reading about their influences and how they wrote songs gives you a new appreciation of the band and their stunning catalog.
The biggest drawback of the book is the language. Unfortunately, it reads like an academic research paper with stiff, overly formal writing. Bennett does her best to break down concepts and theories, but it feels like you have to be a film major to fully comprehend them. It’s one of those books you’ll have to read a few times to fully grasp her argument. She’s a professor at Australian National University, so the academic language is second hand to her, but the 33 1/3 series is read by all type of music fans. With language better suited for those who study film, it feels like she didn’t consider the wider audience when writing the book.
Another issue is the deluge of information thrown at you. The chapters can be difficult to get through since Bennett cites various sources, including other film theorists and the band, makes her own argument and references genre history. With all this clumped together, it’s easy to get lost or forget her original point. You’ll find yourself backtracking to figure out what you just read and it takes the fun out of reading. The information isn’t boring, rather the way it’s presented is overwhelming.
Despite these issues, even the most devoted Banshees fan and movie buff will enjoy the book. Bennett proves her theory well citing from various sources and using numerous examples to back up her argument. But the academic language and excess information make it a difficult read. You’ll walk away with a basic idea of what Bennett was getting at and you’ll more than likely agree with her. But to fully understand the book, you’ll have to take your time with it and read it several times. Still, it’s a well thought out, highly researched, and in-depth study of one of the most underrated bands of the 80s.