Thursday 23 August 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - X: X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents

The letters X, Y and Z offer slim pickings, and I make no promises for the discovery and re-appraisal of long forgotten gems.  Indeed, the random-ness of these selections may not appear all that random and you lot will be thinking "ah, he's just chosen something comfy that he knows".
Well, honestly - the randomisation may be minimal but it is still Excel's choice and not mine.

This was the debut (and only) album by one of the early wave of Punk bands (inspired by Sex Pistols, and played The Roxy - credentials for an "original punk band" me suggests?).
X Ray Spex had two stand-out elements that differentiated them from the Punk pack.
  1. Although many other vocalists had a sneer and untrained tone, Poly Styrene could holler with the best of them.  And as a girl in a generally bloke-ish world, her confidence to shout-sing her politics and beliefs no doubt inspired many others to have a go.
  2. They employed a most unlikely instrument for a nascent punk band - a saxophone.  Blown and parped by Lora Logic.  Yes it is a very unlikely punk instrument, but adds a certain depth, tone and uniqueness to the band.  Plus, it can't be that daft an idea, as the model was used a couple of years later for Hazel O'Connors band in Breaking Glass
Their first single ("Oh Bondage Up Yours" - the only recording with Lora Logic, before she left and went back to school) came in late 1977, with this album following a year later.

The album can be read as an onslaught against consumerism, fakery and gender politics (no getting away from that one - Poly is a forceful character, and you just somehow "believe" it is there).
On first listen, it's difficult to get past the punk-thrash, atonal high pitched vocal and seemingly out of place saxophone.
Further listens reveal it to be something of a statement.  And titles such as "The Day The World Turned Dy Glo" do resonate - this album does indeed feel alive, colourful and joyous in delivery, if lyrically it may take a darker or more contemplative tone.
The stand out tracks for this listener are the title track "Germ Free Adolescents" (which has a slower pace than the rest of the album, but is no less engaging), "Identity" (a mainstay of multiple "Best Of Punk" compilations) and the almost 60s Girl Group meets New Wave sounding "I Can't Do Anything".

Their star rose and descended quickly - by early 1979, Poly Styrene was showing signs of mentally exhaustion, wrongly diagnosed with scizophrenia and sectioned.  This spelt the end of the band and they chose not to continue.
Poly later became involved in Hare Krishna movement, and made intermittent public appearances thereafter.
As one of the few women involved at the outset of Punk, she will be remembered as a trailblazer of sorts.
Her "legend" will always be this debut album - she was one of the first female punks, not scared of herself or anyone else, and (fearfully treading into clich√© territory) a true original.
Sadly, Marianne Elliot (aka Poly Styrene) passed away in 2011.

Back row: Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux
Fron row: Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene, Pauline Black

Germ Free Adolescents


I Can't Do Anything

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