This is one album I was almost afraid to play! As a big fan of POLY and X-RAY SPEX back in the day, I was slightly concerned that her re-emergence following a thirty-year absence (what?!) from the music scene could tarnish my memories of one of both punk and pop’s iconic figures.
I needn’t have worried. This is an album positively brimming with variation both in terms of musical style as well as lyrical content that retains Poly’s penchant for observant, witty, cynical and pointed socio-eco comment on war and racism.
Obviously, there would be little merit in simply regurgitating her former band’s trademark sound.
“I’m looking to the future and not looking back,” sings Poly in the current single, ‘Virtual Boyfriend,’ and it would seem from ‘Generation Indigo,’ that she’s certainly keeping her options as to which musical route to follow in future.
Those who fondly remember the days of X-Ray Spex are gently introduced to the ‘new’ Poly with opening track ‘I Luv Your Sneakers.’ Essentially a bouncy electro-pop number, it incorporates the shrill ‘trademark’ saxophone shrieks through the chorus, providing a comfort blanket to all old-school fans.
‘Virtual Boyfriend’ is probably the most commercial sounding track on the album and so I can understand it being released as a single (March 2011) but personally, I’m not so sure that this electro sound allows the freedom for Poly to exercise her vocal talents. It’s a little bit too kitsch for me …. which is terribly convenient as this leads (shoehorns?) nicely to the fourth track on the album – coincidentally entitled, you got it… ‘Kitsch.’
This is more of a straight up catchy pop tune, rocking along nicely, with more room for POLY to express the lyrics and deliver them with that dash of cool ‘attitude’ she previously made her own. ‘White Gold’ follows; a chugging guitar riff is complimented by a pounding beat and Poly’s vocals ranging from deep and soulful to light and airy– a song with a touch of The Go Gos / Jane Wiedlin … and I mean that as a compliment.
Other tracks that could point Poly Styrene down the ‘Pop’ route are the genuinely classy ‘Ghoulish,’ and album closer, ‘Electric Blue Monsoon.’ The former is smooth on the ear and wafts in a breeze of swirling synths and relaxed vocals. The latter on the other hand is a complete contrast to everything else on the album, with Poly singing virtually a capella, as through a megaphone, in a gospel / blues fashion – different and beautiful!
But for me personally, the signposts on the album that indicate routes down the ‘Punk’ or ‘Reggae’ tracks would seem more attractive. If I may digress just briefly: the only two tracks I’m aware of Poly performing in recent years were ‘alternative’ Christmas songs. The first was a duet with Goldblade frontman, John Robb (another who can do nothing wrong in my book!) called ‘City of Christmas Ghosts.’ This is essentially a stomping punk anthem of a song.
The other is Poly’s own release this Christmas past – ‘Black Christmas’ – this one a smooth, reggae based track.
I mention these two songs solely to illustrate where I see her strengths, something that is borne out on the album by ‘Thrash City,’ and ‘L.U.V.’ both of which echo the brashness and punk attitudes of X-RAY SPEX. But having already walked the ‘punk’ route, it may be regarded as a bit of a backward step to retread it.
So that leaves the ‘reggae’ road. And THIS is where I personally see POLY STYRENE coming into her own. Title track ‘Generation Indigo’ is without doubt the highlight on the first half of the album. The slow, deliberate beat, the slight reverb and general dub atmosphere is given a slightly more commercial feel by attaching a catchy-as-hell chorus. ‘Code Pink Dub’ has distorted, spoken vocals accompanied by a dub backing, while ‘Colour Blind’ picks up the pace a little and makes me think of something that perhaps Gorillaz would have done.
Then there is the best track on the album, no mistake – ‘No Rockefeller.’ This one feels like it could have straight out of the Trojan back catalogue, leaning more towards the ‘Lovers Rock’ end of reggae.
All in all I love this album – albeit I lean more towards the reggae-based side. And remember what they say about musical fads and trends being cyclical; maybe the time is right for a Reggae revolution – and who better to lead it?!
Welcome back POLY STYRENE!
(Released through Future Noise Music on 28th March 2011)
(The following track ‘Black Christmas’ does not appear on the album, but has been posted to illustrate the warmth of Poly’s vocals while in reggae mode…. and also because I love the song!)