Tuesday, 12 March 2019
X-Ray Spex - Germ-Free Adolescents (1978)
Released November 1978
As with many punk bands, it took a long time for their debut album to get released, a record company finally having caught on and signed them up. By the time this was released in 1978, bands like The Jam were on their third album and The Clash on their second, and musical diversification was already well under way. Punk was already morphing into post-punk or new wave and here were X-Ray Spex releasing their debut - a manic, frantic, wailing punk album. To many, punk was already yesterday's thing, would you believe.
Anyway, on to the band. Led by the squealing, high-pitched vocal of Poly Styrene and characterised, unusually, by the presence of a madcap, howling saxophone (played by Rudi Thompson) that gave them, at times, a feel of early Roxy Music meeting fiery punk energy. For me, though, Siousxie & The Banshees and the underrated Penetration were the superior of the female-led punk groups. I always found X-Ray Spex a bit screechy, but it has to be said that they completely personified the punk ethic that said that anybody could do it. They kicked up an energetic, exuberantly noisy racket and managed to get over a bit of pertinent social comment at the same time. Fair play to them. Punk was great in that it allowed young people with a bit of creativity and chutzpah to express themselves via music.
Poly Styrene's particular bugbear was rampant commercialism and the ills of a consumer-based, synthetic society that valued looks and superficial image over the expression of one's real identity, however imperfect it may be. Many of the songs concerned this issue.
2. Obsessed With You
3. Warrior in Woolworth's
4. Let's Submerge
5. I Can't Do Anything
7. Genetic Engineering
8. I Live Off You
9. I Am A Poseur
10. Germ-Free Adolescents
11. Plastic Bag
12. The Day The World Turned Day-Glo
"Art-I-Ficial" is an excellent, full-on punky opener, with shrieking, indignant vocals from Poly. This is one of the best best offerings. The saxophone comes blaring in adding something different to the trademark punk riffage. "Obsessed With You" continues the breakneck pace with another fantastic, energetic punker. There is a punk purity in this that is quite irresistible. "Warrior In Woolworth's" is a deceptively melodic, fetching song, with a catchy rhythm, more great saxophone and a funky bass line. By the way, the sound quality on the remastered "deluxe version" is superb, the best I have ever heard the band's music - full and bassy. It actually makes the album sound much better than I remember it.
"Let's Submerge" is a rollicking, rousing romp. You cannot call into question the effervescent, pure energy on this album. It is infectious. "I Can't Do Anything" also has a catchy, handclappy beat to it. "Identity" has Poly bellowing the title of the song as the opening before we are launched into a copper-bottomed punk classic. The saxophone blares, the sumptuous bass rumbles, Poly squawks and the angry intensity never ends. "Genetic Engineering" continues in the same vein, as indeed does the beautifully sax-drenched "I Live Off You". The sax on this almost sounds like The Beat in places.
"I Am A Poseur" is another hundred miles an hour but then we get the complete change of pace in the hit single, the evocative "Germ-Free Adolescents". "Plastic Bag" has poly telling us, cynically, that her "mind is like a plastic bag". The pace on this one is even faster at times, in between some slower, early Roxy Music-influenced passages. "The Day The World Turned Day-Glo" was also a single and is a madcap, bonkers slice of riffy livewire fun. Full of parping saxophone and hollering vocals. Punk perfection. Also fitting the latter description is the non-album single "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!".
Listening to this again has been a real pleasure. A breath of punky fresh air.