They lasted only three years and produced only one album,* but for a band of self-branded underachievers X-Ray Spex managed to create a classic of English punk rock in Germ Free Adolescents. Led by singer Poly Styrene, the band had long lasting influence not only on the UK punks and New Wavers, but also on on the 90’s NW scene, the so-called riot grrls, and those who followed after. Sleater-Kinney, Beth Ditto of Gossip, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs have all cited Poly Styrene as an inspiration. Anyone who likes fiery rock, though, could relate to the blistering attack of their classic single, “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!”:
Poly herself (born Marian Joan Elliott-Said) had recently reconnected to her roots and set out to record a new solo album, one that hits record stores today, called Generation Indigo. Produced by Youth of Killing Joke, the new album maintains the humorous yet biting commentary of Germ Free Adolescents updated for today’s social issues. Though she did foray into more spiritual concerns previously, she clearly hadn’t lost a step.
At the same time, though, Poly had been battling cancer, which had spread from her breast to her spine and lungs. For her, the album was a positive and driving force in her fight, and with Youth’s encouragement and assistance, she fulfilled her final dream. Yesterday, at age 53, Poly Styrene passed away and left not a bookend to her legacy but a continuation of her spirit, which will continue to inspire rockers for ages to come.
For a recent interview with Robert Christgau on NPR, go here.
And watch as Poly discusses her new album:
* The band reunited in 1995 and produced another, albeit less influential, album.