Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Art-i-ficial


When gawky 18 year old Marion Elliot saw The Sex Pistols play in 1976 she was immediately inspired by their example to make some music of her own. Whereas many people seemingly got into Punk simply to spike up their hair and stick up two fingers, young Marion had a message, a mission: a crusade against consumerism and materialism that would ultimately lead her to renounce all her worldly goods and leave the music world behind.

As newly christened Poly Styrene, Marion and her band X Ray Spex exploded onto the punk scene in an extraordinary burst of kinetic energy. Whereas most punk bands were laddish and aggressive, X Ray Spex were led by a smiling teenage girl, with an even younger girl (16 year old Lora Logic) on the squawking saxophone that further marked them out from their contemporaries.

Their songs were not, perhaps, thoughtful and considered (they were too fast and loud for that), but were often deceptively subtle with a feminist or political aspect that went way beyond smashing the system. In actual fact, the band were almost unique in the first wave of punk in that they were not averse to dressing up, surprisingly proficient and occasionally ambitious in their playing and seemed to be the sum of a jumble of non-contemporary influences, encompassing pop art, science fiction, b-movies, advertising jingles and bubblegum pop.

Somewhat slow to get into the studio, X Ray Spex didn’t release their debut LP until 1978, but it was well worth the wait. ‘Germ Free Adolescents’ is an amazing mix of punk, pop and art rock that places the listener on the sticky surface of a dayglo world where genetic engineering is rife, exploitative relationships the norm, and bored teenagers find hypnotic solace from detergent clogged swimming pools and plastic burger buns by brushing their teeth the SR way. A sort of ‘Brave New World’ as rewritten by J.G Ballard and painted by Max Ernst, the album is quite brilliant and possesses a depth of imagination and uniform vision that outstrips all other first wave UK punk LP’s, including the ones that everyone wets their slacks over and regularly appear at the top of lists.

Sadly, Poly left the band after a punishing tour to promote the album, later shaving her head, joining the Hare Krishnas and leaving capitalism and consumerism behind.

The band subsequently reformed several times in the last thirty years (with and without Poly) and have even recorded new material, but the best examples of their work remain the tracks on their great debut. Please find attached the cool, blank title track (one of the first singles I ever bought), sinister nursery rhyme ‘I Live Off You’ and storming pop art blast ‘The Day The World Turned Day Glo’ with its vivid imagery and grinding guitar riff.

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