Rip it up and start again! Punk, yeah, that used to be a thing. Revolution and stuff like that, for ever!

To my mind it never, ever sounded as bracing, fresh and revolutionary as X-Ray Spex Germfree Adolescents.  Most punkers were white boys thrashing out cheap speed riffs, X-Ray Spex were one of the few back in ’78 that saw beyond that scorched Earth/scorched nostril approach and wondered what would happen if you tore out the bit of the punk rule book that said everyone had to sound like Chuck berry on 45RPM.  What would happen if you let one of those things sing, you know what I mean, ‘girls’ I think they were called. Oh and how about chucking another 15 year-old one on sax too while we’re at it?*  Even 40 years later nothing else ever sounded like this.

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The key to this headlong sugar rush into barely harnessed chaos was the wonderful, irreplaceable, irrepressible Poly-Styrene**, a front woman like no other – all dayglo clothes, awesome swingy arms dancing, shrieks, surreal lyrics and absolutely boundless charisma.  She came on like an explosion in the paint factory across the grey late 70’s cultural landscape of England.  She just sounded new and dangerously other.  Which is not to diminish any of the other X-Ray-ers here all of whom could really play, Jak Airport is a great guitarist – the riff on ‘Art-I-Ficial’ would have stood tall and proud on any 80’s glam rock LP; the rhythm section of BP Hurding and Paul Dean are solid as hell and Rudi Thomson’s sax adds a genuinely chaotic edge to much here, sounding equally poised between Andy Mackay and Nik Turner^.

X-Ray Spex Germfree 01X-Ray Spex Germfree 04

But enough pleasantries, let’s get down to the real tofu of the job here.  I may have hinted at it earlier but Germfree Adolescents is just freaking brilliant from the run-in groove on side A, right through to the run-out groove on side B … and the songs are even better.

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The whole album is not just a wonderful anti-consumerist rant, but a rant dressed up in all manner of exciting propulsive punking, mewling pop.  No matter how rock the band get on the likes of ‘Art-I-Ficial’, or the fast-rocking ‘Let’s Submerge’, the sax is always there to undercut the normality of it all and Poly’s voice takes of into different realms, flirting with discord but never trying our patience.  The latter’s hymn to the punk scene is definitely one of my real favourites:

The subterranean is a bottomless pit
The vinyl vultures are after it
Molten lava sulphur vapours
Smoulder on to obliterate us

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In the mood for some strange? check out ‘Warrior in Woolworths’ which sounds like listening to AM radio after drinking 2 gallons of cough mixture, all sweetness on the surface but you know something strange is going on just around the corner that really is going to make you puke.  Check out the angry, unfocused ‘Plastic Bag’ which nudges us almost into Zappa territory, or the poison pop of the title track:

I know you’re antiseptic
Your deodorant smells nice
I’d like to get to know you
You’re deep frozen like the ice

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I love the way that Germfree Adolescents never goes where you expect it to, there’s always another twist and twirl around the corner to stop you pigeonholing it in any way.  Producer Stuart Falcon in conjunction with the band does a sterling job here, every sound is clean, warm and bright, but definitely not germfree.  The more I listen to it the more I hear Roxy Music in all but the gnarliest bits, you could imagine Bryan ferry adding his blue suede croon to the likes of ‘Genetic Engineering’ and that has to be a very good thing indeed.

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Sadly the band stalled as Poly-Styrene had one hallucination too many in 1978 and ended up being sectioned^^, she left X-Ray Spex the following year and that was that.  There were brief reformations but she passed in 2011, far too young.  All this means that Germfree Adolescents stands as the sole effervescent snapshot of the band, lending it even more potency and poignancy.  When I listen to it today I hear the seed of an awful lot of 90’s music being sown right there and then.

Vital stuff.

834 Down.

PS:  Article from 2002 I stuck inside LP cover, because that’s the sort of crazy antics I get up to.

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*Laura Logic had gone back to her education after playing on debut single ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!, but Germfree Adolescents uses her arrangements, played by Rudi Thomson.

**Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, she was part Somali by birth.

^just slip into ‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’ which could be a female fronted Hawkwind.  Trust me.

^^she was diagnosed as bipolar in 1991.

35 thoughts on “Arrr-Tey-Fish-Ewwl

  1. Just added “I Can’t Do Anything” to a birthday mixtape for my little sister – the theme of which was embracing the apparent 80 percent of our DNA attributable to the olde country per Ancestry(dot)com – and I was reminded of this post. I think I heard of this band and record only when, shortly after the turn of the new millennium, I asked an (ahem) older friend to share a list of the best of 70s punk. I immediately splurged on near everything on that list, with this ending up being one of the biggest scores. What a great album! My most favorite song on this disk replete with favorites — and also at the top of my list of greatest ever punk ballads – is the title track.

    Speaking of the title track, given your olde citizenship, might you be able to help overcome my ignorance and enlighten me on the lyric “scrub away the S.R. way”?

    1. Great tune – whereabouts did your ancestors hail from?

      I love this LP and the way it just didn’t confirm to the punk rulebook (irony of ironies!).

      S.R stands for ‘Sodium Ricinoleate’ an active component in certain types of toothpaste. I can vaguely remember several brands that had SR after the name. Maybe it’s a UK thang?

      1. Yep, believe I can confirm that “S.R.” thing was all y’all. Rings no liberty bells on this end.

        The report says 81 percent “Northern England & the Midlands” and another 8 percent “Europe West,” attributable to my beloved Dutch grandmother.

      2. I just wondered if there might be a hereditary title you could lay claim to. Lord Victim of the Fury has a certain gravitas.

      1. I loaned my copy of the book out to an out-of-town friend a few years ago, I can’t recall their review. But if there’s no lego, I’m in even less of a rush to get the book back!

  2. Classic 1537. Your enthusiasm makes me determined to re-visit this one (though not on orange re-issue vinyl, sadly) and have another go at getting inside it. I know that in the past I’ve found the album pretty, well, bi-polar: chaotic, fast, frenetic and lacking in a sense of cohesion. But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

    1. I thank you, I am merely a humble guide to the genius of others. I do love this LP a lot, because it was so different.

      Interesting possible post ahoy! Gary Numan’s Aspergers, Poly’s bipolar, Syd Barrett’s issues – how artist’s mental topography affects their work.

  3. Great respect for the Specs (not the ones I got from saving up Bazooka Joe wrappers btw*) and another on my list of bands I didn’t get to see live!
    You’re 100% right about this album. It stands out like a gold tooth in the dentally-challenged, speed-wasted mouth of punk.
    There was I staring (just staring, honest!) at a picture of Debbie Harry and along came Poly and stole my heart (hand) away. She was and is everything I love about Punk – non-conformist to the max. She sung about stuff that was visionary (well, she did have x-ray glasses). Take Germ Free Adolescence – whether riffing on her own neurosis, as I suspect, or predicting the rise of OC clean-eaters and other net-narcissists, she was ahead of the curve. And I always sensed a bit of the bi-polar stuff in her lyrics, which is another reason why I was attracted. After all, you can’t go through life without running naked into Tescos singing Oh Bondage, Up Yours! without an appreciation of wacko-pops.
    We did have another thing in common, for a long time we both shared the belief that we were aliens stranded on this planet, and I do crack a smirk about that when I listen to Identity! Great song and if she could have only hung on – the ufo did come back for us, as I’m writing this just to the left of the P7491 cluster, on a punk planet where there is no disco and John Peel is the leader of the free world. (Sorry, Saturday Night Feverists, your soul evolved differently here!)
    So, I’m glad Poly landed, even for short while. I’ll never forget her metal smile and turban-wearing appearances which reminded me that there was always room for freaks to breathe beneath the claustro-conformist cumulus!
    Nano-nanoo! Mork out!

    *did anyone ever really send off for those things, and if so, did they really allow you to see through people’s clothes?

    1. Here’s Johnny!

      You were such a part-time punk! How am i supposed to live vicariously through your seeing all these incredible cool bands … if you didn’t?! ya big let down. Well hopefully you saw the next lot I’ve written about.

      You are a total wacko and I mean that very affectionately.

      1. Sorry to disappoint you in this present time. Thankfully, I have a time-travel machine here on punk planet, it just plugs into your nostrils and you can visit all the gigs you missed due to fermented infirmity. It’s like a double-headed nose hair trimmer, but more useful. The only downside to using it is when you come back to your own time, the quantum tunnelling causes your nose quills to grow to a similar length of a Tibetan Yak’s winter coat. If only someone could combine the two devices I’d certainly be travelling back to a few more missed gigs.
        Note to self – loud music in your youth is the sole causes of excessive ear hair growth in later life.

  4. Oh! that’s good, innit? I’ve heard the name, but never any of the tunes. Punk’s just never really been my thing, y’see… or at least I thought it wasn’t. I need to investigate this one, for sure.

  5. New one to me. I like the track. It doesn’t really remind me of anything, which I’d say is good. Very much their own sound. Little punk, little pop, and the sax adds just the right amount of “huh??” Seems like a band that influenced a lot that came in the late 70s and early 80s.

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