There’s never a shortage of opinion online about Siouxsie and the Banshees and their work. I’m not one to dive in to it all, but one thing I would pipe up for is ‘Tinderbox’, a personal favourite of mine. I always feel that this album is likely the last Banshees LP to be based on the template that had held sway from ‘The Scream’ onwards and John McKay’s unmistakable and original style. It feels as if a distinct guitar style was passed baton-like from Smith to McGeogh and Carruthers over the preceding albums, but after ‘Tinderbox’, some major surgery would be carried out on the Banshee’s DNA. A re-focus on shifting the guitar element into either a more abstract noise-merchantry role or a supporting role in tandem with the widening emergence of keyboards as the foundation of the sound.
The album has a long and fascinating history which was well documented in the band’s fan club magazine, ‘The File’. Early live debuts for some tracks before the convoluted recording process and spontaneous changes to the album that ensued from that, then a whole UK tour with a set list heavy on the tracks that would ordinarily have been released on LP for the tour to promote – this was an album that much had already been heard of prior to its release.
When it finally arrived, the album had been whittled down to eight tracks, amongst them a few classics, in my book at least – ‘Lands End’, ‘Cannons’, ‘Candyman’ – which should have been a far bigger hit single than it managed… and of course, ‘Cities In Dust’. Originally intended as a B side, it took on a life of its own and provided a hit single in the Autumn of 1985 – and which we have looked at before in its US remix form. There’s a lot of great Banshees guitar work on here – no rest for John Valentine Carruthers, you sense that they really worked him on this album. On the other hand – a mere eight tracks… meagre by the standards of previous Banshees’ albums.
‘Tinderbox’ era timeline
Something new to VersionCrazy, a first time dabbling with H5P interactivity to bring you a timeline of the ‘Tinderbox’ period. The events in the timeline are largely reproduced as is from the entries across ‘The File’ newsletters by Billy ‘Chainsaw’ Houlston, the driving force behind the long running Siouxsie and the Banshees fan club – the level of detail he captured is priceless in digging back on this period.
Most of the detail is from The File, Phase Four, Issue One and Two and The File, Phase Four, Issue Three.
‘Tinderbox’ UK Remaster CD (Wonderland/Polydor, 531 489-3, 2009)
One of a series of reissues as the Banshees back catalogue was worked through – when first issued on CD in 1986, various extra tracks were included on the CD as standard – the B sides from the album’s two singles ( a fine vintage for Banshees B-sides) and the 12″ extended version of ‘Cities In Dust’. For this reissue, those B sides were jettisoned in favour of a few previously unreleased recordings, though the 12″ mix of ‘Cities In Dust’ remained present and correct.
This edition is the most recent outing on CD, though there have been a couple of vinyl re-issues too since – but the CD contains not only the original album but some additional bonus tracks of the period too, only one of which had previously been available prior to this CD release.
And of those extra tracks – its difficult to place exactly where in the ‘Tinderbox’ timeline the Chris Kimsey 12″ mix of ‘The Sweetest Chill’ dates from, but its an interesting version – a bit more drama perhaps than the album mix. Do I prefer it? Not quite – there’s not enough of Severin’s bass on it and the period production trickery on the drums is a bit too mechanical, for my tastes – perhaps if there is a 7″ mix in the vaults somewhere it might be the one. The original outing of ‘Song From The Edge Of The World (JVC Version)’ is from the period while John Valentine Carruthers was still a Banshee. Its good and there is, as you might imagine, a good deal more in the way of guitar present, but it doesn’t quite match the eventual single version, which for me edges it (despite perhaps the too clean sounding keyboard runs of that Mike Thorne production). ‘Starcrossed’ (Demo) lacks the polish of the rest of ‘Tinderbox’ – quite why it fell by the wayside remains a puzzle – sounds perhaps like the guitar arrangements never quite progressed far enough?… who knows…
The packaging largely keeps the original feel going, though is a good deal darker in shade compared to the original album release.
1986 UK original LP (Wonderland/Polydor SHELP 3, 1986)
The original album, bought at the time of release, included here for comparison. It was an exciting time buying this, so much anticipation with having heard the various singles, Peel session takes, Whistle Test and Tube TV appearances and live versions from the previous autumn. Did it live up to it all? Just about… it feels overworked a bit in places, but on the whole it works – and in ‘Lands End’, an absolute classic.
2021 burgundy vinyl re-issue (Wonderland/UMC, SATBLP09M, 2021)
The most recent re-issue of ‘Tinderbox’ is this 2021 edition for the annual ‘National Album Day’ event – a burgundy vinyl pressing. Otherwise the sleeve design is pretty faithful to the original vinyl. Interesting that one particular element of the design is so under-used – the Koninck type arrangement – aka The Brothers Quay, responsible for the sleeve design.