Deep Sea Diva: Going solo, Siouxsie artfully diversifies with Mantaray

"When I arrived at the airport, everyone was cheering. But it turned out it was for the New York Giants."

Siouxsie's slightly jet-lagged voice is full of sly humor, but it's no joke—people should be cheering for her anywhere she goes. An iconic figure whose early music and imagery fronting the Banshees inadvertently codified a genre, she has kicked against such stereotyping ever since. Her passionate and playful performances are, at their best, still a constant, glamorous blast of wryness, desire and rage, and her distinctive purr of a voice is still strong.

Siouxsie's latest step might actually be her most unexpected in years: Having reunited with the Banshees for a tour, then following that up with the career overview Dreamshow performances, she's back on the road with her first solo album, Mantaray. Having parted ways professionally and personally with Budgie, the drumming stalwart behind the Banshees and the Creatures, she's now almost beginning from scratch. But a chance listen to a recent Robert Plant album led to hergetting in touch with one of his collaborators, multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Evans.

"I first met Steve on his own in his studio in Bath [England], just to meet him and to see if we could work together. I met him again with [co-producer] Charlie [Jones] to talk more specifically about material. They both worked on 'Into a Swan' [the album's brawling lead single] and 'Loveless.' I asked them, 'Let's see what you do with these two songs; I want to hear what you do, rather than talk it up.'"

The result is a 10-song effort created from a variety of individual sessions, drawing on both newer songs and older ones reworked by the Evans/Jones team and other musicians. While understandably reminiscent at points of her vast, three-decade repertoire, the disc possesses plenty of highlights in a very stylish way, from the funhouse/burlesque vamp of "Here Comes That Day" ("We went all-out to get that feeling," Siouxsie notes) to the "science-fiction murder mystery" of "Sea of Tranquility," a reflective song she considers the album's emotional heart.

"It's inspired by the site of that name on the moon and was really a creative piece of writing that I had around; it didn't have a vocal melody, but it came later," Siouxsie says. "It was inspired by both deep underwater and deep space, the future with of an organic feeling."

Evans is heading up the four-piece band backing Siouxsie on tour; having already completed a series of shows in Europe, she feels they've settled in together very well, something she finds reflective of a growing sense of strength in her own abilities.

"The evolving and the experiences and the confidence you grow to have with other musicians is important," she says. "When [the Banshees] first started, I felt I could only communicate with those three people with me. As time goes by, the musical vocabulary that you accumulate makes you much more able to interact with other musicians more easily."

The variety evident on Mantaray, itself reflective of the many musical approaches in which she has worked over the years—from near-atonal noise to slick dance pop, demented jazz to frenetic psychedelia—further helps to dispel the perception she describes as one of her life's biggest frustrations, that for "a lot of my music, the cliché is that it's gloomy and dark. I think that's very much a cartoon impression that people read about, and it gets perpetuated."

Mantaray may just be a starting point for a new phase of Siouxsie's work, but it's one that rewards attention, and she hardly seems inclined to rest on her laurels. Asked what constitutes artistic satisfaction, she concludes, "I'm always looking for it—I think it's actually starting something, whether a project or a song, and you're not sure how it's going to work out, and there's a bit of unsureness if it's going to work out, but then you go through the work process, and when you've actually done it, you see that it's all been worth it."

Siouxsie performs with Rasputina at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. Mon., 8 p.m. $35.50-$38.

 
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