Three of a kind

By MIKAEL WOOD  |  October 8, 2007

Mass Destruction’s centerpiece is “Sing,” which a member of the AIDS-relief group the Generics introduces: “This is a call for the national implementation of mother-to-child transmission-prevention programs in all the maternity hospitals in South Africa.” (Bravo for the specificity, always welcome when it comes to issue songs.) “Sing” boasts an all-star “We Are the World”–style choir with Madonna, KT Tunstall, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Gladys Knight, Joss Stone, and 17 others. And no, the pomp and circumstance isn’t spared on this one. But it’s not just the gravity of AIDS that keeps the tune grounded, it’s also Lennox’s elegant lyrics, which redeem shopworn ideas about female empowerment.

Harry told me one thing that links her, Lennox, and Siouxsie Sioux is their common background in urban areas and how that has an impact on a musician’s ear for atmosphere. That rings true nowhere more than on Mantaray (W14/Decca), Siouxsie’s solo debut after a long career recording with the Banshees and the Creatures. This is a dark, funky album full of clanging percussion, smeared textures, and distorted guitars. If age has cooled the big-city burn with which Siouxsie used to reflect the grim tumult of late-’70s London, Mantaray doesn’t show it.

Unlike Harry and Lennox — and despite countless instances of her latter-day influence — Siouxsie has never become a mainstream pop star, operating instead at the margins in a way that’s allowed her to follow her inspiration with little regard for commercial appeal. That could be one reason her album offers less in the way of hooks or catchy choruses than Necessary Evil or Songs ofMass Destruction. But despite its thorny art-rock surfaces, Mantaray still enjoys a kind of high-gloss glamor: these are sensual, darkly comic goth-cabaret tunes out of a Tim Burton film or something starring Helena Bonham Carter. Listen to “Sea of Tranquility,” in which a death-rattle beat shuffles away beneath sawing strings and murky electric-guitar reverb while Siouxsie purrs sexily about “forensic traces” and “footsteps on an ocean bed.” Or check out “Here Comes That Day,” a stomping big-band number where Siouxsie can’t hide the glee she finds in announcing the impending arrival of “rain on your parade” as the Mission: Impossible theme disintegrates behind her. Harry may admit to having no method in her madness, but on Mantaray Siouxsie’s cunning — and her demons — are as plain as day.

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