As promised, here’s Siouxsie & The Banshees’ 1984 audio cassette album: Hyaena. I’ve taken the unusual step of photographing both sides of the tape and the inlay, such is the visual appeal of this product – rapidly approaching three decades of age. I don’t want to appear biased towards Siouxsie and the Banshees on what’s primarily an audio cassette photo blog (great as the band were), but their audio tapes were so photogenic that the decision to add multiple examples has pretty much made itself.
As you can see, the paper labelling on the cassette – product code ‘Shehc1’ – has a different design for each side. A large Wonderland logo appears on Side A (Wonderland was Siouxsie’s own ‘record label’ within a record label – the parent being Polydor), with a design specific and unique to this album. On Side B, there’s a track list, and the Chrome identifier, indicating that the tape coating is formed from real chromium dioxide for what, in 1984, was an extremely impressive standard of audio reproduction. Indeed, the fidelity of sound is still admirable today. Lots of detail and complete clarity in all areas of the frequency spectrum – you probably wouldn’t know you were listening to a 1984 audio tape, as opposed to a modern CD, unless you were told.
I’m reluctant to go too deeply into the musical element of this cassette. Hyaena definitely isn’t one of my favourite Banshees albums. It’s less commercial and more experimental-sounding than the alternatives, but then, the Banshees were an experimental band, and perhaps it takes a less catchy album like this to remind you how remarkable it was that their experimental approach so often resulted in hit singles. Since this is the UK version of Hyaena, it doesn’t feature the massive hit single Dear Prudence (as included on the US release), but it does feature the Top 40 hits Swimming Horses and Dazzle. Everyone has different tastes, but listening through the fullness of Hyaena without any prior knowledge I don’t think I’d have guessed that two of this album’s songs became UK Top 40 hits. You do get the feeling that Swimming Horses has a more ‘poppy’ attitude than the rest of the material, but you might still question whether it would make the Top 40.
The two let-downs for me across the whole album are the general lack of classic Banshees-style guitar lines, and the rather reverberant production. Heavy plate reverb was all the rage in ’84, but the Banshees didn’t need it, and in my view they sounded better without it. Production is subjective, especially in the arena of experimentation, so I’m not gonna say it’s bad. The wash of ‘verb just doesn’t appeal to me much. Notably, The Cure’s Robert Smith was the guitarist for this album, and he does stamp his individuality onto it. But it’s too far removed from the recognised Banshees sound for me.
Over the years, some of this album has grown on me, and in the grand scheme of music it does rank highly. But if I want to hear a more typical and much more exciting representation of Siouxsie and the Banshees, I’ll always go for albums like Tinderbox, or a compilation of their early classics, such as Once Upon a Time.