Siouxsie – Mantaray

Siouxsie
Mantaray

The iconic and inimitable Siouxsie Sioux is back with a solo album titled Mantaray and, this time around her lyrics and vocal delivery reflect the passage of time and her endurance of personal turmoil (she recently divorced Budgie, the long-time drummer of Siouxsie and The Banshees). The commanding Siouxsie continues to be a force to be reckoned with, as she both bears and bares her personal pain on this album, bringing a bittersweet weariness and frank vulnerability to her song lyrics and vocals. Her voice dominates the songs, sounding fiercely cool, sharply cutting, wistfully aching, defiantly lean, and nasally slinky, depending on the lyrical intent.

Musically, Mantaray is not like classic Siouxsie and The Banshees or The Creatures albums. It’s a more stylistically varied affair and echoes later Siouxsie and the Banshees albums, The Rapture and Superstition with a clean, made-in-the-studio sound and a balance between mid-tempo rockers and more delicate ballads. The sonics, however, are really just a backdrop for Siouxsie, as she distinctively sing-talks about her turmoil, worn but much wiser, coming across a bit jaded sometimes, a little (to a lot, depending on the song) cynical, but also coming through as a survivor, one with hope and an eye on the future.

The intro kicks it off with a bang, as Siouxsie bursts “Into a Swan”, a manifesto about where she is in her life right now. Her manipulated vocals are lower register, but purposeful and fierce against the hard-edged, industrial texture of chugging rhythm, buzzing guitars, grimy synths, and fleetingly piercing noise. She’s in fine form as she declares “I feel a force I’ve never felt before… / feeling so strong, can’t be ignored / I burst out, I’m transformed.”

The dynamics ratchet down a notch on “Here Comes That Day”, with low trumpet and other horn-blasts forming part of the rhythm, while bell tone accents, whistling R2-D2-like notes, and high register strings round out the sound. Siouxsie takes care of business on this number, all brazen and strutting as she scathingly draws out the lyrics (aimed at Budgie, perhaps?) “There’s a price to pay / for a life of insincerity.”

That strut continues on the mid-tempo “Loveless”, with its smashed-metal beat, meandering, high-pitched orchestral strings, cool, globular xylophone pattering, and Siouxsie singing upfront, coming to terms with her past and present as she sings “What am I gonna do? / How do I face the truth? / loveless, loveless…”

The torch ballad “If It Doesn’t Kill You” follows, with a smoky Siouxsie singing in a dreamy, but melancholy tone “If it doesn’t kill you / it will shape you. / If it doesn’t break you / it will make you.” against a soft beat, piano notes, attenuated synth tones, brushed cymbal, and Twin Peaks-like guitar reverb. Mid-way through the song, the sound fades to the background, then builds up with a fiery guitar line and Siouxsie wordlessly emoting, until it plateaus to the chorus, with Siouxsie backed by introspective piano notes and a winding guitar line.

Siouxsie remains in a dream state for “Sea of Tranquility” which contrasts a faster, shaken-sand beat with heart-tugging violins, measured antique piano notes, and Siouxsie in gracefully romantic mode as she repeatedly sings “There are more stars in the sky / than grains of sand”. While the song starts off in ‘verse, chorus, verse’ format, there is a break at the end of the song where Siouxsie longingly draws out her lyrics, working through a higher, more dramatic range, accompanied by sawing strings, emphatic piano notes, an even faster-paced beat, and backing vocals.

The elegant, spare piano ballad “Heaven and Alchemy” closes the album on a bittersweet note as Siouxsie sings “I’m in love with the idea of you” but, it’s “hard to face this deception” amid a choral backdrop of low male vocals recalling the work on Bjork’s album Medulla. The pared down sound of vocals (“I would catch a falling star if you asked me to. / Can’t seem to find one to hold on to.”), piano, backing vocals, and light beat suits Siouxsie well, allowing room for her emotions and lyrics to stand on their own without any sonic frivolity.