Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut album, 1978’s The Scream, is an undisputed masterpiece. Alongside Magazine’s Real Life and Public Image Ltd’s Public Image, both released that same year, it laid the foundations for post-punk and made effectively made 1978 the year that punk combusted, and post-punk rose from its ashes. The album was incredibly influential in the way that it established the kind of large but minimalist sound that Joy Division would make their own the following year with Unknown Pleasures.
In a 1983 interview with Melody Maker, former Banshees guitarist and frontman of The Cure, Robert Smith argued: “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”. Smith was right in his assertions, one could go as far as saying that The Scream had a great deal more of an impact than Real Life and Public Image.
Not only was The Scream incredibly progressive in its reappropriation of the punk ethos, but it was also captured the earliest lineup of The Banshees, with guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris at their zenith. Brooding, atmospheric and enchanting, it codified the key facets of The Banshees moving into the future.
On the record, Siouxsie is marvellous. There’s an attitude to her siren-like vocal delivery and dark lyrics, and arguably, this was the first true goth record to hit the mainstream. It wasn’t until 1979 that Bauhaus released what is often hailed as the first goth single in the shape of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. It was on The Scream that the former sex Pistols hanger-on personally diverged from punk and made her first strong claim for the title of queen of goth.
Recorded at RAK in London, Steve Lilywhite’s production gave the album an atmosphere that is still loved today. He made Morris’ drums sound thunderous, and placed bass player Steven Severin’s performances right in the middle of the mix, driving the album and giving McKay’s spiky and unmistakable guitar tone the room to pierce. The swirling ‘Nicotine Stain’ reflects this clearly.
There’s no real downside to the album, and that is its true brilliance. A strong show of arms by one of post-punk and goth’s leading lights, as a whole, it is a unified experience that you’re totally immersed in thanks to Lilywhite’s huge production and the band’s restrained but fluid performances. It is experimental but calculated, explicit but implicit, belligerent but also withdrawn a sensual juxtaposition. There’s no wonder that it is one of the most influential albums of all time and ‘Jigsaw Feeling’ is undoubtedly the highlight, tying together all its most essential points.
Seemingly loved by every alternative musician who’s ever done anything of worth, the list of disciples that The Scream has is truly remarkable. Unsurprisingly, the ex-Joy Division members have given it love at different points over the past. In 2013, Peter Hook told Q: “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”.
In 2019, Joy Division drummer, Stephen Morris, wrote of the album:” The bass-led rhythm, the way first drummer Kenny Morris played mostly toms. The banshees had that foreboding sound, sketching out the future from the dark of the past. Hearing the sessions they’d done on John Peel’s show and reading gigs write-ups, they sounded interesting”.
It’s crazy to think that without the massive influence of The Scream, Unknown Pleasures would have been a completely different record. Another icon who was massively inspired by the album was Jim Reid, the vocalist of The Jesus and Mary Chain, who said on BBC Radio 6: “‘Jigsaw Feeling’ from The Scream album… it was brilliant, amazing. That’s a reason why I made music”.
His old bandmate, Bobby Gillespie, who went on to front Primal Scream, wrote in his 2021 memoir Tenement Kid: “They had a sound unlike any other band”. Gillespie said the songs were “a realisation that life is difficult, not normal pop song material. The Scream was the first record through which I experienced these themes, where the band’s music mirrored the lyrics perfectly”.
Gillespie also praised the “film noir atmosphere” of the album, and that McKay “reinvented rock guitar playing”. Both of these sentiments can be heard on ‘Pure’, ‘Suburban Relapse’ and ‘Switch’. Even David Bowie was a huge fan, which says more than most. Appearing on a BBC show, he told Sioux and Severin: “I saw you Siouxsie and you were really excellent… I was clutching my copy of The Scream“.
Everyone from Faith No More to Steve Albini and Massive Attack cites The Scream as a huge influence, that is the extent of its importance. Since its release, the record has continued to be a key reference point for those wanting to create truly unique and pioneering art.
Although today it is still an astounding record, to imagine what it would have sounded like upon the first release is mind-boggling. It still had everything that followed to come, and if you were to erase it from history, it’s likely many of our favourite musicians would not exist.
Listen to The Scream in full below.