Album Review: Poly Styrene – “Generation Indigo”

Even though I asked to review this release, I must admit I was still hesitant. Poly Styrene, whose real name was Marianne Joan Elliot-Said, had just recently lost her battle with cancer (on April 25th to be exact) and what if I didn’t like “Generation Indigo”? The last thing I wanted to do was rip apart her final recordings. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. It’s a great album and I’m very happy that I got the chance to hear and review it.

Most of us know Poly Styrene as the singer of the phenomenal band, X-Ray Spex. Their debut album “Germ Free Adolescents” was a major influence on many of the bands that formed the Riot Grrrl movement of the ’90’s and has often been called one of the most important punk albums of all time. But what a lot of us (especially those of us who live in the United States) don’t know is that Poly had a singing career both before and after her time with the X-Ray Spex. Before she founded the Spex back in ’76 she recorded a reggae single, “Silly Billy/ What A Way” under the name Mari Elliot; those two songs were later included on an X-Ray Spex anthology titled “Let’s Submerge”.  And since leaving the band, she has collaborated with several other musicians, released a solo EP and three full-length albums, of which “Generation Indigo” is the third.

“Generation Indigo” is not really a “punk” album, and I doubt it was ever meant to be one. So if you’re looking for the 2011 version of X-Ray Spex…this is not the album you’re looking for. The record does have some punk influence though, especially on the songs “Trash City,” which has a “Combat Rock” style Clash to it and “Kitsch,” which is the most X-Ray Spex-like song on the album (especially with the inclusion of the saxophone). Several of the other songs have a severe reggae influence to them, and there is even a Jamaican-style MC who makes a few appearances. The remaining tracks would probably be considered pop, or in the case of “L.U.V” and “White Gold” possibly pop-rock. But don’t take the word ‘pop’ as a bad word, at least not in this case. I’m not saying these songs are in any way like the auto-tuned bullshit that floods today’s radio stations, but something more akin to the early ’80’s post-punk pop songs released by The Cure or Blondie. Poly actually sounds a lot like Debbie Harry of Blondie on the songs “Ghoulish” and “No Rockefeller”. If I were to compare “Generation Indigo” to another album, I’d say that it is in many ways similar to “Rock Art & The X-ray Style” by the late, great Joe Strummer but with a stronger Caribbean vibe to it.

There is really not one song on this disc that I don’t like in one way or another but a couple stand out to me as highlights.

The song “Code Pink Dub” is a really cool, slow reggae dub. It’s a song about getting “the hell out of Iraq” and Poly’s voice sounds very angelic on the chorus. The message is even more relevant today, since Bin Laden was neutralized shortly after this album was released.

The title track “Generation Indigo” is another of my favourites on the disc. This one has a hip-hopish beat that sounds like it was run through a wah-wah guitar peddle. It’s upbeat and makes you want to jump around. It’s also one of the songs that features the guest MC. A great song for a summer cookout/party. The only downside to this track is that it’s pretty short at slightly under two and a half minutes.

The previously mentioned “Kitsch” is the song that I probably like the most on the disc (it’s either this or “Code Blue Dub”, I keep changing my mind). This one is punky, but still has a little bit of a pop sound to it. The lyrics seem to be about being yourself regardless of what someone else has to say about it. It’s a good message and delivered in a way only Poly Styrene could.

Start to finish, this is a great disc. You can hear samples of it on both Amazon and iTunes so go and check it out; you might find something you like.

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