Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Creatures - Feast

The Creatures

Released 1983 on Wonderland, Polydor
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 11/06/2001ce

1983 was a very strange year for Siouxsie and The Banshees. Things had started to get very psychedelic for them at this time – not a prevailing attitude in the rest of rock. The previous year had seen the release of the Banshees’ ‘A Kiss in the Dreamhouse’, a post-punk psychedelic masterpiece. The following year saw a hiatus for the Banshees as Steve Severin and Robert Smith got together on a side project called The Glove, immersing themselves in cult films to release an album of trippy pop aimed at the Japanese market called ‘Blue Sunshine’ (in reference to the film about a psychosis-inducing form of LSD). At the same time Siouxsie and Budgie, who were now a couple, formed The Creatures and disappeared into the humid forest together to come up with a tropical lust-drenched music more visceral than much of the Banshees’ output.

The Creatures’ first full-length release was a revelation. It was recorded in Hawaii, and is environmental in terms of place: It drips with sex, humidity, narcotics and ritual; but is timeless. This is due in no small part to the mainly acoustic instrumentation, which is stripped down to drums, percussion, marimba and Siouxsie’s voice, all reverbed and processed to give the dense, trippy effect. No guitars are used and it sounds unlike anything anyone else was doing in 1983. The cover says much about this record. This is psychedelia of the truly shamanic variety: no gnomes or daisy-chains here! Much of the feel is of a crazed Hawaiian night-time beach party attended by William Burroughs and Dr. John at which strange, spiked cocktails are being served, whilst magical rituals are performed.

‘Morning Dawning’ opens with Siouxsie letting rip with a metallic Banshee speaking-in-tongues wail which sounds like she’s screaming at a gong in a cave. The sound of the sea in the distance fades in as the disembodied voices of a ritualistic, cloaked choir, a horn and wind-chimes billow in on the wind. Siouxsie begins her incantation, Budgie punctuating the end of each verse with a single beat of a bass drum. ‘Inoa ‘Ole’ starts with the sound of village elders chanting to the sound of water-filled glasses being played with wet fingers. Budgie begins a soft repetitious roll round his drums, as random metallic percussion sounds clatter in imitation of the wind-chimes of the previous track. Siouxsie sings a beautiful, wordless circular figure in the softest of voices. This is maintained until the village elders’ voices, which have been chanting throughout, suddenly synch up with each other. Bell chimes begin ‘Ice House’, as Budgie drums the sound of a tropical lizard’s tongue darting in and out of its mouth. Then in comes Siouxsie, more stridently this time, with lyrics evoking humid fecundity, coming back to the refrain: ‘Not ashes to ashes / Not dust to dust / A Beckoning bouquet of blossoming lust’ as Budgie notches up the volume on his cyclical drumming, maintaining a rolling groove. This track suddenly stops to give way to ‘Dancing on Glass’, where the instrumentation and production are so similar the two tracks sound like two parts of the same story. Budgie’s drumming has sped up and goes on journeys around his kit, hand-claps punctuate this strange ritual dance and smashed glass accompanies as percussion. The shimmering, high-altitude synth on this track is one of the few electronic instruments used on this record. Siouxsie sings a groovesome tune about smashing windows, glasses and bottles at this party, and everyone dancing themselves silly on the shards, blood sputing everywhere: Like I said, this is no normal party! Side one ends with the beautiful and very whistlesome ‘Gecko’. This album is full of animal imagery and this tracks brings one of the creatures(!) mentioned into the spotlight. As tropical birds squawk Siouxsie narrates, David Attenborough-style, a giant gecko’s walk through the forest. She’s accompanied by lush marimba as she sings of choruses of frogs, parakeets’ picnics, panoramic bananas, and passion fruit sambas. Watery drums are overlaid with occasional crashing drum-rolls, and multi-layered vocals by Siouxsie run the gamut from whispering to shouting.

Side two’s ‘Sky Train’ is counted in by Budgie’s drumsticks, a long cymbal shimmer, Siouxsie letting out a wail, then all hell breaks loose as Budgie’s drumming and percussion crash in with volume, speed and ferocity. This train is a driverless hurricane and is totally out of control. The circular rhythm is maintained as Siouxsie wails the sounds of trees being torn out of the ground and flying past us. Everything is pushed through myriad effects and reverb, making the whole thing even more disorientating. This is a total headrush. Then the whole thing stops as we reach the eye of the storm. ‘Festival of Colours’ follows as the Lamalani Hula Academy Hawaiian Chanters do their thing, to be joined by Siouxsie, singing the same lines. Budgie comes in with a lolloping, drumkit journey just as Siouxsie’s layered vocals diverge from the chanters into English. Carnival whistles and sirens sound throughout. The song finishes as it started with the Hawaiian Chanters singing solo. Then comes the strange single ‘Miss the Girl’. For this song to make the charts in 1983 was no mean feat. After all, it’s very short, with minimal instrumentation (just marimba, metallophone, voice and a nebulous synth.) and a lyric about a hit-and-run driver, but it’s a perfect, concise pop song which brings Steve Reich to the masses. ‘A Strutting Rooster’ almost sounds too much after ‘Miss the Girl’, as we are back into headrush ‘Sky Train’ territory. Multi-layered, tribal drums and percussion fly around the room as Siouxsie intones an ancient Hawaiian riddle. Her voice is fed through multiple delays, making her sing call-and-response with herself. Low marimba notes maintain until the end where they become dominant, trip over their shoe-laces and disappear into a dark, bone-strewn pit. Although much of this album is redolent of Burroughsian imagery (not just lyrically, but sonically too) ‘Flesh’ really takes the influence further than any other track here. It starts with what sounds like a close-miked hissing snake, a shot from a gun, then the sound of party crowd chatter as Siouxsie narrates lyrics where ‘a rich fatty’ is ‘eating raw fish with avid curiosity’, accompanied by a sinister marimba line. Random drum sounds fed through echo crash in all over the song. The party guests join in the chorus of ‘Piggy squeals and donkey brays – at a sober party / Doggy barks and horsey neighs – try to shock the party’ as dissonant party trumpets screach and wail, subsiding for each verse. The last chorus won’t stop repeating as the party crowd lose it completely singing, shouting and screaming the chorus, louder and louder, until everyone laughs in a sinister, uproarious riot and the whole thing falls apart. The record ends with a deranged guest left squealing: ‘Try to stop the party’. This is one party in a hot, humid, bestial environment that is out-of-control on a grand scale.

With this album The Creatures made a record that reflected nothing of the time it was made in, adding to its timelessness. They show an amazingly sympathetic feel for indigenous musics, unlike many who’d come later and use watered-down ‘world’ music to drape over the soundtracks to their own bombast. This album works hand-in-hand with (particularly) traditional Hawaiian music to produce a heady cocktail. Once the brew is sipped joining the unstoppable party is inevitable.

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