On her recent Out of the Woods, Tracey Thorn, singing about artists who awed her early on, mentions “Bobby D in ’63.” But she also name-checks Siouxsie Sioux, the suburban English girl who rose up from Sex Pistols fandom during the late ’70s to front Siouxsie and the Banshees, that unique trio of assault and strings, punk and poise.
Mantaray, Siouxsie’s blazing solo debut, earns those accolades with no trace of fatigue, padding, or confusion, as on-it and of-the-moment as Justin Timberlake. Working with producers Steve Evans and Charlie Jones, it preserves her classic black-and-white sonic barrage—what her Banshees work always mounted, whatever the style—this time accomplished with pop-forward guitars, occasional horns and strings, and extraordinarily subtle electronicism. “If It Doesn’t Kill You” and “Into a Swan” alternately slow up or rock out, but they’re part of one surpassingly deliberate yet fast-moving piece. A ballad like the climactic “Heaven and Alchemy” edges Siouxsie toward Fiona Appledom, but she never really divas out and is just as likely to go completely metal—a constantly threatened balance, rough yet schooled, aggressive yet considered.
Of course, a certain goth quality colors the music. But it’s the durable, non-gauzy, hardwired Gothicism of literature, architecture, or challenging relationships. “Don’t be gloomy,” Siouxsie counsels at one point. In the uneasily soulful world of Mantaray, such a pose would be far too simple.