September 12, 2006
Sanctuary Fontana
Pop/Rock, Punk, Punk/New Wave, British Punk

Album Review

During their too-short recording career (1976-1979), seminal British punkers X-Ray Spex put out only a handful of singles (literally -- there were but five) and released only one full-length album. How, then, can a record label be justified in releasing a 52-song anthology for a band whose total output barely warrants its own divider in a record shop bin? Two words -- Poly Styrene. X-Ray Spex's simultaneously squeaky and roaring frontwoman defiantly cut her own swath through the increasingly poseur-ridden early punk scene in London. Instead of the ubiquitous "ripped T-shirts and chains" look of most rent-a-punks, Styrene had a penchant for Day-Glo outfits. While other punks channeled their energies into blind, reactionary rebellion, Styrene homed in on very specific targets -- namely big business advertising, commercialization, and sheepish poseurs. She was a woman fronting a punk band in the late '70s. She was half English, half Somali, and she wore braces on her teeth. Poly Styrene busted down barriers -- just by walking onto the stage. And that delivery! Her voice could go from bullhorn shout to sweet-and-lyrical on a dime, and often in the midst of the same line of phrase. There was definitely no one like her at the time, and subsequent literate, rocking, female-fronted bands (like Romeo Void and Poison Girls) owe Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex a great debt. Aside from Styrene's magnetic individuality, the band itself was unconventional, even for a punk group -- the main distinction being the addition of saxophone to the regular guitar/bass/drums combo. If you were looking for something out of the ordinary in the late-'70s London punk scene, things didn't get any more distinctive than the female-fronted sax-featuring socially literate punk rock of X-Ray Spex. Years later, singles like "Oh! Bondage, Up Yours!" and "Germ Free Adolescents" still boil with angst, energy, and distinctive style. If more prolific (but less influential) bands from this period can warrant the box set treatment, X-Ray Spex can have their two-disc anthology without any arguments -- and so it is that Sanctuary offers up the definitive story in 2006 with their release of Let's Submerge: The Anthology. And definitive it is -- even going so far as to include Poly Styrene's pre-Spex reggae single "Silly Billy," which she recorded in 1976 under her real name, Mari Elliott. The collection's first disc concentrates on the band's studio work, including every single and the entirety of their sole studio album, Germ Free Adolescents. Rounding out that track list are several instrumental mixes, as well as two complete John Peel Sessions. Disc two collects all the rest, including the aforementioned reggae single, the Spex's visceral live album (Live at the Roxy), and a host of early demos. There is some overlap on the anthology, but the multiple versions offered here are so wildly different that redundancy doesn't come into play and the extensive liner notes go a long way toward putting all the selections into a logical and enlightening context. For anyone whose appetite for Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex's distinctive brand of punk has been whetted enough to elicit a headlong dive into their world, Let's Submerge: The Anthology serves as the Alpha and Omega encapsulation of their career.
J. Scott McClintock, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Oh Bondange! Up Yours!
  2. I Am a Cliché
  3. The Day the World Turned Day-Glo
  4. I Am a Poseur
  5. Identity
  6. Let's Submerge
  7. Germ Free Adolescents
  8. Age
  9. Art-I-Ficial
  10. Obsessed with You
  11. Warrior in Woolworths
  12. I Can't Do Anything
  13. Genetic Engineering
  14. I Live Off You
  15. Plastic Bag
  16. Highly Inflammable
  17. Prefabricated Icon [Backing Track Version] [#][Instrumental]
  18. I Can't Do Anything [Backing Track Version] [#][Instrumental]
  19. Warrior in Woolworths [Backing Track Version] [#][Instrumental]
  20. Genetic Engineering [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 20/02/1978] [Joh
  21. Art-I-Ficial [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 20/02/1978] [John Peel
  22. I Am a Poseur [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 20/02/1978] [John Peel
  23. Identity [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 20/02/1978] [Version]
  24. Germ Free Adolescents [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 6/11/1978] [Jo
  25. Warrior in Woolworths [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 6/11/1978] [Jo
  26. Age [BBC Radio One "John Peel" Session 6/11/1978] [John Peel Session]
  27. Silly Billy
  28. What a Way
  29. Oh Bondange! Up Yours! [Live at the Roxy] [Live]
  30. Identity [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [Live]
  31. Let's Submerge [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [Live]
  32. Plastic Bag [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [Live]
  33. I Live off You [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [Live]
  34. I Am a Cliche [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [Live]
  35. I Can't Do Anything [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977] [
  36. Oh! Bondage, Up Yours! [Recorded Live at the Roxy, London, 2 April 1977
  37. Obsessed with You [Early Demo Version] [Live][Demo Version]
  38. Let's Submerge [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  39. Plastic Bag [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  40. I Live off You [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  41. I Am a Cliché [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  42. I Can't Do Anything [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  43. The Day the World Turned Day-Glo [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  44. Oh! Bondage, Up Yours! [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  45. Genetic Engineering [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  46. Art-I-Ficial [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  47. Germ Free Adolescents [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  48. Age [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  49. Warrior in Woolworths [Early Demo Version] [Studio Demo]
  50. Obsessed with You [Alternative Mix] [Rough Mix]
  51. The Day the World Turned Day-Glo [Alternative Mix] [Rough Mix]
  52. Age
purchase full album