X-Ray Spex

  • X-Ray Spex
  • Germfree Adolescents (UK EMI Int'l) 1978  (Caroline Blue Plate) 1991 
  • Poly Styrene
  • Translucence (UK UA) 1980  (UK Receiver) 1990 
  • God's & Godesses EP (UK Awesome) 1986 
  • Generation Indigo (Future Noise Music) 2011 

One of the most exciting groups of its time, X-Ray Spex was at once an ideal and atypical punk band. While boasting as much raw aggression as any of its peers, X-Ray Spex used a distinctively different means of delivery — augmenting Jak Airport’s obligatory buzzsaw guitar with Rudi Thompson’s (Lora Logic’s replacement) even-more- abrasive sax and giving center stage to Poly Styrene (Marion Elliot), a talented teenager who yowled witty lyrics with all the delicacy of a cat in heat.

X-Ray Spex’s one LP collects some of the ace singles that made them such an early punk standout, although it doesn’t contain their classic first outing, the wild “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Styrene’s songs focus on the artificiality of modern life; hence such titles as “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo” and “Warrior in Woolworths.” Whether the tune is a ballad or a crazed rocker, the band surges as if there were no tomorrow. And for them, there wasn’t. A masterpiece! (The CD reissue adds the originally omitted tracks for a more thorough rendering of the band’s slim but spectacular output.)

Styrene always seemed one of punk’s most dispossessed souls, so perhaps the solo album that followed the band’s dissolution (which sent two members off to form Classix Nouveau) should be viewed as a last stab at finding some sense of place in musical terms. A feeling of alienation still prevails: Translucence is so smooth and coolly delivered that one could easily miss the dark side in the lyrics. Jazzy cocktail-hour backing combines with Styrene’s childlike visions to make the music’s effect most elusive.

Styrene subsequently left music completely to join a British Hare Krishna sect, but resurfaced commercially in early 1986 with a delightful, well-adjusted 12-inch EP. Jak Airport arranged two of the four originals comprising God’s & Godesses [sic]; the record’s main musicians are Mick Sweeney and Paul Inder. The anti-cult “Trick of the Witch” has hauntingly echoed vocals and a driving rock beat; synthesized log drum and sitar give the jazzy mantra of “Paramatma” fascinating color. “Big Boy Big Toy” attacks the nuclear arms race with humor and urgency.

[Jon Young / Wayne King / Ira Robbins]

See also: Essential Logic