Poly Styrene – Generation Indigo – album review
Year Zero records
What a comeback!
She may be recovering from cancer but, as ever in her life is fighting back with that indomitable spirit that has inspired so many, but Poly Styrene has released a defining album.
After a good few years without a release she returns to the frontline with a great album that combines her very personal worldview with a great scope of powerfully produced tracks from Killing Joke bass player and uber producer, Youth.
Generation Indigo is neither the raucous, sax driven punk rock of her youth or the spiritual trip outs of her occasional solo releases, it’s an album that sees her idiosyncratic viewpoint stretched over several different styles.
Of course there are moments of the punchy punk rock pop she made her name on in the punk era but there is also dub, reggae, electro, mantras and pure pop bubblegum on here for her still great voice that combines innocence with a perceptive, very smart and very 21st century take on the world.
With her great self-styled image, kooky imaginative wardrobe, brilliant witty lyrics and powerful presence Poly was one of the few genuine originals in punk and the unforgettable frontwoman from X Ray Spex and one of the iconic faces on the punk scene.
The band may have only been around for about two years but their series of hit singles have stood the test of time and made Poly a major icon for generation after generation of young musicians- including whole scenes as diverse as Riot Grrrl and Britpop.
Currently a new generation of young American bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Gossip, Le Tigre and countless others recognise her fiery, inspirational presence and articulate, clever lyrics that took on consumer culture and won.
Poly’s indomitable spirit inspires and she is a role model for women who break the mould.
X Ray Spex were one of the key bands in the punk revolution. With their series of powerful hits that were a combination of fierce riffing, signature sax breaks and the irrepressible Poly vocals, the band sounded like no other.
That burst of energy would have been enough for most people and for years Poly was off the music scene either with the Hare Krishnas or just getting on with life.
In 2009 she reformed the band for a memorable sold out one off gig at the Roundhouse and wrote a new song, Code Pink, for the gig but didn’t play it live. Luckily a demo of the song was heard by Year Zero records who persuaded Poly to record a solo album.
The forward looking Generation Indigo album sees Poly deal with 2011 with songs about pop culture, clothes, love, war, terrorism.
The songs come complete with lyrics that are still as sharp as ever, combining serious subject matter with that off the wall touch that sees her as easily one of the best lyricists of her generation.
There is humour in songs like I Luv UR Sneakers which celebrates shoe culture with a cutting bubblegum pop aesthetic and Ghoulish which looks beyond the surface of subcultures and the fear of people dressing beyond the norm. There is pathos in the recent single, Black Christmas whilst the album title track celebrates the idealism of a new generation.
Poly turns her eye to the new world of internet dating on Virtual Boyfriend, then get serious on the anti war Code Pink and makes a stand against the racists on Colour Blind. There is still the spiritual yearning of Electric Blue Monsoon which coupled with the commentary on the fast, dirty modern world of Thrash City gives a hint to Poly’s ethereal stance. There is the classic Poly consumer commentary of Kitsch and the result of her endless watching of the news channels is Black Gold which sums up the fucked up greed of the modern world situation in one song.
The album is perfectly produced by Youth who was brought in by the label. This was a masterstroke, because the Killing Joke man, who has also produced Crowded House and multi million sellers without losing his inventive touch somehow seems to manage to understand the punk rock spirit and how to make a mainstream records at the same time. The maverick producer and Killing Joke bass player makes albums without losing any of the spikiness and raw edges that make the greatest records but also makes them sound like pop records.
Poly came in with the songs sung into a tape recorder and Youth turned them into epics. There are all styles here- from reggae infused grooves, to power pop to neo- X Ray Spex punk rock.
Poly’s voice sounds as youthfully vibrant and innocent as ever- a powerful and thrilling tool.
A fantastic return to form, Poly is about to pull of an unlikely comeback. Not relying on old tricks this connects with the modern times both musically and lyrically in a triumphant album.