By: Eric Greenwood
X-Ray Spex were one of the few female-fronted punk bands to make an indelible mark on the burgeoning punk movement in England in the late 1970"s. The band"s early singles were raw and full of abrasive energy, particularly the rambunctious punk classic "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" which combined jarring guitars with over the top saxophone and Poly-Styrene"s obnoxious wail.
Styrene ranted and raged her way through her droll and oftentimes nonsensical lyrics that targeted the pretense of her generation. Being a teenager at the time you can hardly blame Styrene for lines like: "I-AM-A CLICH" you"ve seen before/I-AM-A-CLICH" that lives next door/I-AM-A-CLICH" know what I mean/I-AM-A-CLICH" pink is obscene."
Germ Free Adolescents compiled several of the band"s stunning singles as well as a few "ballads." X-Ray Spex were unique amongst the heap of post-Sex Pistols-shock-punk because of an inherent ear for melody that truly blossomed in tracks like "Genetic Engineering" and "Identity." The prominence of keyboards and saxophone in the mix also contributed to the band"s crazed appeal. The band flails through each song with a sense of desperation and immediacy.
"The Day The World Turned Dayglo" is unabashed punk genius: "I clambered over mounds and mounds/of polystyrene foam/then fell into a swimming pool/filled with fairy snow/and watched the world turn dayglo." All the noise is infectious. Every song is a classic example of the strange marriage of naivete and aggression connate to the early punk scene.
Sadly, X-Ray Spex only released one album in its heyday (a sad resurfacing of the band occurred in 1995 but it"s nothing to speak of), but it"s an archetypal tour-de-force. The band"s influence can be heard in everything from the riot grrl movement of the early 1990’s to more mainstream female-fronted acts like Elastica and the now-defunct Kenickie, but no female-fronted band has rivaled X-Ray Spex"s brand of primal energy and aggression.