Friday, April 29, 2011

Poly Styrene (1957-2011)

Very sad to hear the news of Poly Styrene's passing from breast cancer on Monday.

While I was in my early 20s I had initially dismissed the importance of her band X-Ray Spex in favour of The Clash and the the Pistols, but I soon realized what a mistake that was. Germ Free Adolescents, the debut album, is just as brilliant and groundbreaking as the early work of the latter two bands, particularly as it appears in 1978, a mere year after punk broke. The album doesn't have a bad track on it, and the band upped the ante for what was possible in punk--in particular transforming the saxophone into a true punk instrument.

Moreover, as a female-fronted band, led by a mixed-race teenager, X-Ray Spex shattered punk's identity as a "white boys club" and her lyrics were both anti-consumerist and feminist. And one can't forget how Poly Styrene changed the visual style and fashion of punk, moving it from safety-pins and scars to the day-glo colours which would be picked up by the New Wave movement several years later.

Three tracks from the aforementioned album below, beginning with "Warrior in Woolworths," a live rendition (a little more sedate than the album version) which nicely showcases Poly's style and political lyrics. I believe some have connected this song to the Italian Autonomia's offshoot group The Metropolitan Indians.

The title track, which shows that it is possible to write a punk ballad. I love Poly's voice in this track; sonorous even as it cracks. Note the awesome day-glo fashion on both the men and women on the album cover.

And of course the inestimable "Oh Bondage Up Yours!"

Oh, bondage no more...

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