Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘X’.
“My mind is like a plastic bag,” intones punk princess, pretty Poly-styrene, on the song of the same name. Her group goes by the name X-Ray Spex (Jak Airport, guitar; Paul Dean, bass; Rudi Thompson, sax; BP Hurding, drums; and Poly-styrene, vocals as well as leader and song writer.
They’re a group responsible for one of the classic early British punk singles, the name of which precludes publication (this is a family paper).
Germ Free Adolescents is their debut album (released in Britain November last) and the vitriol, potency and passion so evident on that first single has not dissipated.
The band are adequate musicians but strictly anonymous. Poly runs the show. The songs are about living in our plastic society, coping with technology, assimilating, becoming plastic ourselves.
“I know I’m artificial/but don’t put the blame on me/I was reared with appliances/in a consumer society/When I put on my makeup/a pretty little mask not me/That’s the way a girl should be/in a consumer society.” (‘Artificial’).
‘Artificial’ shows the group’s punk roots, but elsewhere on the album, Spex widen horizons and stretch out with the folk-influences ‘Warrior In Woolworths’, or the melodic pop of ‘I Can’t Do Anything’ (sung in an endearingly cute voice) and the title track.
They face problems of ‘Identity’, and look into the future with ‘Genetic Engineering and ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’. No punk/new wave collection is complete without it. 7/10
XTC – Drums & Wires (Virgin)
XTC rid themselves of all arty pretensions on Drums & Wires, producing a very strong, uncompromising brew. 9/10
New Zealand is the first country in the world to see release of XTC’s fourth offering, Black Sea, and it’s an honour indeed.
Black Sea is very much a sequel to last year’s chart success surprise, Drums & Wires, and is every bit as brilliant. They have again utilised Steve Lillywhite’s widescreen production genius in what amounts to a near-perfect melding of the conventional and experimental in modern music.
The songs are almost all incredibly memorable, unthreatening mature pop, yet there is a high level of creativity which takes it into different realms for the serious listener.
A big surprise here is the 1960s melodic influence, noticeable particularly on bassist Colin Moulding’s two compositions (‘Love At First Sight’ and ‘Generals & Majors’, both potential hit singles) and in a proportion of Partridge material, notably ‘Respectable Street’, ‘Towers Of London’ and ‘Sgt Rock Is Going To Help Me’.
Guitarist Partridge, whose abilities hold sway in this project, injects more than a little of the dublike sounds first heard to full effect on his own excellent Takeaway/Lure Of Salvage LP.
The obvious examples are ‘Living In Another Cuba’, with its repetitive, lavishly produced vocal chorus, and the dark, chilling au revoir of ‘Travels In Nihilon’.
‘Rocket From A Bottle’ is the most oddly danceable number, and ‘Paper & Iron (Notes & Coins)’ boasts the meanest and most naggingly memorable guitar figure heard for some time. There is no filler on Black Sea.
I’ve played the album 15 times in three days and still there’s so much to absorb. Like its predecessor, it will take time for its greatness to sink in.
XTC’s Wellington concert, which is not to be missed, is tomorrow night. 9/10