Music Reviews
X-Ray Spex

X-Ray Spex

Live @ the Roundhouse London 2008

Year Zero/Future Noise

The X-Ray Spex are back. While some degree of disappointment was inevitable – the committed fan always holds out hope for Lora Logic’s return (and who’s that drummer who looks like he should be in The Exploited?) – it was a chills-up-the-spine thrill to see Poly Styrene return to the stage at the head of her seminal punk combo.

In 1976, a young Marian Joan Elliott was galvanized by early shows from the Sex Pistols and set about to create her own noise. But the newly rechristened Poly Styrene’s plans were far more ambitious than just learning three chords and forming a band. Besides the truly wigged-out nature of the music she was writing for the Spex, Styrene’s lyrics – belying her tender age – were biting personal politic manifestos attacking consumerism, conformity, and body image issues all delivered in a breathless yelp, like there just wasn’t enough time. She also designed her own clothes, providing an inspirational alternative to young women finding their own way “outside,” much in the same way that Siouxsie Sioux did. The Spex debut, Germ Free Adolescents was a classic of the genre and their shows were manic calls to action, but it was all too much too soon for Styrene. After seeing what she claims was a UFO in 1979, she abruptly quit the band, had a breakdown, and ended up a Hare Krishna. After that, recording and performing was only sporadic and somewhat less than satisfying. This live document, in fact, seems to signal the first sustained return for Styrene and her Spex in years.

And she looks great! At the risk of sounding superficial, I don’t believe that Poly Styrene has aged a day. No physical signs of age. She bounds and whirls around the stage with abandon, clad in a black empire-waisted dress, stockings, combat boots, and a jaunty rhinestone red beret perched atop her long, straight hair. A wide smile never leaves her face as she surveys both her peers and her spiritual children.

This CD and DVD package is an attractive proposition. You get a crisp, high-quality video recording of the Roundhouse Reunion show and a twin CD of that same show. Both discs are housed in a handsome, Styrene-designed hardback book-style cover with extensive liner notes penned by Poly and a wealth of vintage photos.

Kicking off strong with the still-fiery “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” the band speeds through a greatest-hits set. Twenty songs (!) worth, including such still-topical social critiques as “Warrior in Woolworths,” “Genetic Engineering,” “I Am A Cliche,” “The Day the World Turned Day Glo,” “Identity”… man, this stuff is still inspirational. Yet there are some bum notes herein. Styrene’s voice gets a little strained (which she herself admitted in later interviews) from more lack of use than wear and tear, and the band’s performances tend toward the monochrome at points. And though I get a kick out of seeing Styrene’s two daughters duet with her, c’mon, playing “Oh Bondage Up Yours” twice (once at the beginning and once at the end)? That said, it’s so fucking gratifying to see the endlessly influential and evergreen Styrene up on stage again that I can’t help but recommend this.

Future Noise:

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