Poly Styrene, Generation Indigo

Andrew Harrison

By Andrew Harrison

on 04.19.11 in Reviews

Even in 1977, British punk's Year Zero for outsiders and the dispossessed, Marian Joan Elliott-Said — aka Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex — stood out among all the gob-encrusted white males. A mixed-race girl of British-Somali heritage who appeared on Top of the Pops in braces, she lived a mixed history as both a "barefoot hippy" and a recipient of psychiatric care. Post-punk, she threw herself into Hare Krishna and New Age, but on this second solo album (her first since 1980) she grapples with a real world that unexpectedly resembles X-Ray Spex's formative years: Everyone hates the government, nobody's got a job and the kids want to riot.

Grappling with a real world that unexpectedly resembles X-Ray Spex’s formative years

Instead of revisiting punk's D.I.Y. DNA, she hooks up with producer Youth to bring together electro, dance-pop, garage rock and protest-ska (stand by for the first sighting of a trombone in pop since 2Tone's heyday). She often sounds like M.I.A.'s older sister: "L.U.V." is a punk chug plus disco-style octave bassline, "I Luv UR Sneakers" sounds tailor-made for the fluorescent germ-free adolescents that X-Ray Spex immortalized, and "Ghoulish" summons the same misty dreamscape as "I'm In Love With A German Film Star."

The album is full of zest and righteous anger, if not subtlety. The punks were unafraid to call a Babylonian downpressor by his rightful name, and Poly carries on in that time-tested vein here. If you're accustomed to reading the tea leaves of Thom Yorke's lyrics for meaning, you might find much of Generation Indigo naive or strident in its assaults on such counterculture folk devils as consumerism, societal disconnection, war, toxic waste and general bad vibes. But who comes to musicians for practical solutions? The point of records like this is not to solve your problems but to inspire you to solve them for yourselves. In that respect, this energy-packed, optimistic, day-glo rabble-rouser is just right for the times.