SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES
b/w “Let Go”/”The Humming Wires”
(Siouxsie & The Banshees)
“Swimming Horses” comes from the brief period in Siouxsie & The Banshees‘ existence when Robert Smith of The Cure was the group’s guitarist. Robert and The Banshees already had a bit of history together before he joined on as a full-time member in 1983 – The Cure opened for the then-bigger Banshees on a 1979 tour, a jaunt that saw Robert first fill in on axe duties for the band when their original guitarist bailed halfway through. By 1983, Smith considered his band all-but-finished after the emotional and physically draining tour for the band’s Pornography album the previous year, and though he agreed not to officially call an end to The Cure at the behest of his label boss, Smith was ready to be a background player for awhile. Enter The Banshees, who at the time had lost their most recent of what would prove to be a seemingly endless line of revolving door guitarists. Smith had been friends with Banshees bassist Steve Severin for a number of years and respected the Banshees musically, so the decision to join up and have the weight lifted from his shoulders was a presumably easy one. Except that he had to make it complicated.
Not happy to just be in the studio with The Banshees, Smith and Severin also decided to record an album of psychedelic pop in their downtime under the moniker The Glove. In addition, The Cure carried on, eschewing the extreme gothic doom of Pornography for the electropop of “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Walk”, which were released as standalone singles in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Smith would literally travel from one session to the next while working on all of these various projects, grabbing catnaps in the back of the cabs that spirited him away to whatever session was next. This triple-duty left him understandably exhausted. By the time Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Hyaena album was released in June 1984, Smith had scored the biggest hit of his career with The Cure single “The Lovecats”, which charted at #7. The rest of The Banshees and Siouxsie Sioux especially became increasingly concerned that The Cure’s heightened profile would lead to scheduling and other conflicts. And they were right. Having been completely worm down by his work on three musical projects, Robert Smith was sickly ill and visited his physician, who told him that in his current state he was in no state to join the Banshees for their world tour in support of Hyaena. Thus, Smith exited the Banshees, the Glove was resigned to side-project hell and The Cure were free to begin their utter domination of the emerging alternative music movement. Siouxsie still holds a grudge and calls Robert Smith “Fat Bob” in interviews to this day.
But ANYWAY…”Swimming Horses”. Never ranked among The Banshees finest moments like “Spellbound” or “Peek-a-boo”, “Horses” still comes across as a delightfully bouncy slice of psychedelic pop, much in keeping with Smith’s influence at the time. The main piano hook was almost certainly contributed by him, as a very similar sounding line would anchor The Cure song “Six Different Ways”, released on The Head On The Door album the following year. Siouxsie lyrics add acid to this backing, with lines like:
thrown back again to drown
kinder with poison
than pushed down a well – or a face burnt to hell
feel the cruel stones breaking her bones
dead before born
….but with the song’s playful music bed it’s easy to miss these dark lines, and most like the chorus:
he gives birth to swimming horses
….is what sticks with the listener. Though you or I might be interested in a pop song where the chorus mentions the fact that it’s the male seahorse that gives birth instead of the female, the general U.K. public didn’t seem to agree and “Swimming Horses” made little impact on the charts. A shame really, because’s it a nice little song and acts as a good example of the music that came out of the Banshees’ brief Robert Smith era.
Top Of The Pops performance, circa ’84.