The second single off Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ninth studio album Peepshow was “The Killing Jar.” The dark song centered around the process that entomologists use to kill hard shelled insects “quickly and with minimum damage” by gassing them in a glass container. It brings to mind the warped entomologist in John Fowles’ twisted novel The Collector, in which one Ferdinand Clegg moves from bugs to humans when he kidnaps a young art student Miranda Grey, as a specimen to be kept and examined in his cellar. The song reiterates a theme apparent throughout most of the Banshees work that adults are not to be trusted as they can never behave responsibly.
This was a harsh fact Siouxsie Sioux learnt early. When she was nine years old, she and a friend were sexually assaulted by a man. When she told her parents, they did not believe her. It became an unspoken secret in the family, leaving Siouxsie (aka Susan Ballion) isolated as she told Word magazine in 2005:
I grew up having no faith in adults as responsible people. And being the youngest in the family I was isolated – I had no-one to confide in. So I invented my own world, my own reality. It was my own way of defending myself – protecting myself from the outside world. The only way I could deal with how to survive was to get some strong armour.
Siouxsie’s old man was a drunk who died when she was fourteen. This caused more trauma that led to her being hospitalized with ulcerative colitis. Against this, Siouxsie dreamt of a different life. There were hints of what this could be—like seeing Bowie perform on Top of the Pops, or listening to Roxy Music—but it all came together when she saw the Sex Pistols perform with her friend Steven Severin (aka Steven Bailey) in 1976. Not long after, the pair formed Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Released in September 1988, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ album Peepshow is one of the best in their catalog. Described at the time of release as the band’s “finest hour” which showcased “a brightly unexpected mixture of black steel and pop disturbance.” The single “The Killing Jar” was written by Severin, Siouxsie, and Budgie (aka Peter Edward Clarke) and featured Jon Klein on guitar and Martin McCarrick on keyboard and accordion. Released the same month as the album, “The Killing Jar” hit #2 in the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Much has been written about the vocal range of artists like Freddie Mercury but not so much on the equally brilliant Siouxsie Sioux, who developed from spiky, punky vocals to rich, powerful, and glorious textured tones in her later albums. She can hit the high notes and bring an unnerving warmth and menace to her lower range. Take a listen to this isolated track of Siouxsie singing “The Killing Jar” and you’ll hear just how good she is.
Hear Siouxsie’s isolated vocal for ‘The Killing Jar,’ after the jump….