Juvenile meets joyful on ‘Songs About Cuddles,’ the debut album by Italian punksters Siouxie & the Skunks

For those in the mood for unfiltered punk rock without any hangups, this album will scratch that bloody itch.
Picture of Rohit Bhattacharya
Rohit Bhattacharya
Writer, erstwhile musician, and intermittent content creator. Rohit is based in New Delhi, India. Contact: rohitbhattacharya@gmail.com or Instagram: robohop10

Not to be confused with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Italian 5-piece Siouxsie and the Skunks are quite far removed from their New Wave namesakes. They’re garage punk through and through, wailing and flailing through live performances and recordings. With their 9-song debut album, Songs About Cuddles, they’ve assembled a motley collection of tunes that bridge the gap between conventional foot-stompers and the anti-establishment hubris of creatures wearing safety pin earrings. The creatures in this particular question are Siouxie (vocals), Paul ‘o Pat (guitar/bass), Larry (bass/guitar), Alle (guitar), and Marra (drums).

Furious fuzzy downstrokes on the bass bring in “Crispy,” the first song on the album. From the get-go, it’s clear the band doesn’t miss a chance for a dance. The track is three straight minutes of raw and uncomplicated punk rock, easy listening for fans of the genre and not too heavy to be off-putting to a casual listener. As the song nosedives into a tunnel of a 4/4 beat—a fitting change from the earlier stabs of chords and hi-hats—Siouxie closes things off by singing, “I’m not your puppet,” reinforcing the band’s anti-authority stance and punk ethos.

The distortion is then cranked up by a few extra 1000 degrees on “Mushrooms,” and there’s a cool call-and-response double-act going on with Siouxie’s vocals alongside someone else’s extremely bass-heavy voice. The full band then shouts “Mushrooms! Need more mushrooms,” and a song has never been more relatable. Following that frantic—and vaguely juvenile—crescendo, things suddenly slow down, breaking into a psychedelic sashay of 60s Star Trek synths, theremins, and reverbed-out vocals. It’s the sonic equivalent of a melting Dali painting. They finally blast back into the chorus, and while that’s a convenient way to end the song, it leaves the listener wishing they’d done something less predictable.

Edginess and vibrance vie for space on “All I Want,” the third song on the album, centered around an ominous guitar lick and counterpoint bass groove that feels like the calm before the storm of a riot. It’s the crackle in the air before two groups of protesters drop the pretense and go for each other’s throats. It’s the horror of a night terror where you try to scream but nothing comes out. Interestingly enough, the vibe changes to more of a 16th beat shuffle towards the end of the song, a funky little ditty that lasts just long enough to perk up your ears before wrapping things up using a breakdown.

With a runtime of 2 minutes and an immemorable chorus, “Tinder Delice” is more of a filler than anything of substance, though the song name itself is pretty compelling as if the people you meet on the app are like the lice that cling to the skin. The production of this band’s songs makes it nigh impossible to glean more than a few words from the lyrics, so it’s hard to know what the song is actually about. The guitar riff is excessively traditional, and the vocals are entirely drowned out, a style that suits certain tracks but could have enhanced this song by offsetting the mundanity of the instrumentation. It’s catchy, and kind of corny.

“Soft Skin,” the 5th song on the album, reinforces the belief that the greatest of annoyances can be felled with a power chord. It’s a bouncy, marching band-like stride through the streets of cool, infused with a heavy dose of Blur in the chord progression and the vocal delivery. Any points lost in the previous song are regained with this track, and then some. It gnaws lovingly at the carcass of convention. Bravissimo!

Song number sei (that’s “six” in Italian) is most likely about style, as the name “Sartoria” suggests. The Italians are famed for it, but maybe the band is digging at the lengths to which certain trends go in the name of fashion. On the other hand, it could also just be a chest-thumping proclamation of self-love, what with Siouxie singing “I’m the best, hot from the rest.” The whole song is pretty much three chords and illegible lyrics, without any hook to speak of. Not a standout track, but not terrible either—and that’s something that doesn’t align with punk sensibilities. The genre hates neutrality after all.

Anarchy reigns on “Corner,” a Western-inspired slow burn of a track that would be perfectly placed in a scene where the gunslinger enters the saloon and all activity in the bar stops to stare. The song follows the band’s tried and tested pattern of an intro, then a buildup to a fiery crescendo, followed by a wind-down. There’s even a few lonesome notes of a harmonica to set the mood as the tumbleweed rolls by.

Considering the rest of the songs have been drenched in standard punky fuzz, “Another Illusion” is a change of pace that most listeners would approve of; if only to work as a sonic palette cleanser. The guitar feedback is on full frontal display as this song plays. There’s a heavy foot-stomper of an intro that gets upturned on its head as the verse adopts a very Radiohead-like approach—understated with a lot of delay and controlled drumming. The song see-saws between this heavy, beefy strap and an alt-rock pattern to shift gears smoothly and refreshingly.

If you thought “Mushrooms” was infantile, well, the last song on the album is titled “Glory Hole.” It begins with a full-blown Delta blues harmonica throwdown, quickly accompanied by a guitar that lets a few chords linger to great effect. The filter on the drums makes everything sound massive and exceeds the reds on the mixer. In fact, this song could make the sound of console smoke, it’s that old school. The vocals are a drowned-out grouping of casual, nonchalant ramblings, working in tandem with the heaviness of the riff to make for a ‘glorious’ conclusion.

In Songs About Cuddles, Siouxsie and the Skunks have siphoned off more than enough fuel to deliver an explosive, if slightly simplistic ode to the boozy depths of garage punk. Don’t be fooled by the album name either—the songs aren’t like a warm embrace from a soft teddy, but a bear hug from a seething grizzly. The frenetic energy is palpably consistent, and while certain tracks may lack character, you’ll find it tough to not appreciate their unapologetic dedication to their sound, flaws, and all. Also, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many Italian punks with their degree of swagger and raw energy. Arrivederci!

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