There was a time when you knew where you stood with a Banshees’ lyric. In the days when they were adorned with Nazi armbands and provocatively goose stepping around London clubs, they could pen a lyric such as “Too many Jews for my liking” for ‘Love in a Void.’ As recently as 2005 in an Uncut interview, Siouxsie stated, ” I have to be honest but I do like the Nazi uniform. I shouldn’t say it but I think it’s a very good-looking uniform.”
And so what to expect from a single called ‘Israel’, not on any album, carrying the image of the Star of David on it? It wasn’t the first time Siouxsie had used the image. Following her Nazi flirtation, the band started attracting a far right contingent at their gigs resulting in Siouxsie wearing t shirts with the Star of David emblazoned on them as a riposte. Additionally, the song ‘Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)’ was incorporated into their set dedicated to the memory of anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield. The attempt at some sort of rapprochement with Jewish culture seems to have been finalised with this single.
However, it would be unwise to venture what the song is actually about based on the lyrics. If you wanted to be kind, you could say that Siouxsie has learnt nuance and subtlety; if you wanted to be cruel, you could argue that Coldplay would be quite happy to sing lyrics of such vagueness. There are images of “little orphans in the snow” and “veins on the stained glass”; there are biblical and fairy tale allusions of turning “blood into wine” and princes and kings “now hidden in disguise”. There are lyrics that seem to concern themselves with religion and sectarian divisions but they melt away under analysis like the snow the orphans are playing in. It’s almost as if, having played the provocateur early in her career, Siouxsie doesn’t want to risk causing anyone offence and thus has penned lyrics of mind numbing banality. Contrast this to the lyrics penned on ‘Arabian Knights’ which couldn’t be any clearer (“Veiled behind screens /Kept as your baby machine / Whilst you conquer more orifices / Of boys, goats and things /Ripped out sheeps eyes-no forks or knives.”). Indeed she has claimed she wanted ‘Israel’ to be the Banshees’ Christmas single which makes some kind of sense when you hear the bells ring and the use of Christmas colours, “Red and green reflects the scene” (although, of course, they are also the national colours of Palestine). And that is the frustration with this song: all meaning slips nebulously through your fingers until there is nothing left to cling on to.
It is left to the music to elevate the pretentions of the lyrics: from Severin’s sonorous bass, to the ghostly choral backing effects, to Siouxsie’s mournful lead vocal and, above all, John McGeoch’s heavily echoed guitar spiral that dominates a sound held together by Budgie’s ceremonial drumming. It is a music that allows us to dream, that takes us somewhere exotic, that allows us to ask questions about what we are hearing. It is just unfortunate that like the country in the title there are far more unresolved questions than answers.