Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poly Styrene Leaves Generation Indigo

Poly StyreneOn the eve of the Future Noise Music bonus track release of Generation Indigo, Poly Styrene a.k.a. Marianne Elliot Said was dead. The British punk rock icon's rebellious hollers will be heard no more. And the world is a little less for it all.

Styrene died on Monday, April 25, after fighting breast cancer that had spread to her lungs and spine. The punk among punks was 53.

Best known for fronting the X-Ray Spex in the 1970s and pushing musicians to break from the rank and file of conformity, Styrene went to work on her first solo release in years, only to learn she had cancer during the production.

Her swan song album, of which she missed the bonus track release by one day, is another groundbreaking mark on the music landscape. It's a celebration of how she saw the world differently, and dared other people to do the same.

Generation Indigo remains true to Styrene's mantra. Be like nobody else. Be yourself.

The forward-looking album that returns Styrene to her roots is a showcase for humorous musings on pop culture, the Internet, and fashion. She also tackles heavier topics of war and racism. And, notably across the entire album, is her relentlessly intelligent lyrics and love of life, even as she faced death.

You can hear it off the album too. Even one month ago, Styrene was promoting her upcoming return and granting interviews. One of her last interviews is featured on emusic, The Legacy Of Poly Strene, well written by Andrew Perry.

In the interview, she tells of how music was changing as punk musicians decided they could get up and play without being signed. She also provides insight into one of the tracks on the ambitious 13-track Generation Indigo lineup (counting a remix).

"It's just a fun twist on modern relationships," she said. "I think relationships can become more superficial and end before they even really begin, so we need to be careful and also maintain the importance of human contact."

The video was quietly released in March, capturing a modest amount of listens considering Styrene is one of the most influential punk female vocalists of the last century. The song is remarkable in that it proves Styrene masterfully retained her youthful energy. Throughout her life, she was an optimistic powerhouse, credited with helping start an underground feminist movement in the U.S. known as Riot Grrrl.

In turn, Riot Grrrl gave birth to bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. Her daughter Celeste Bell-Dos Santos is the deliciously punk frontwoman for the music group Debutant Disco. (Bell-Dos Santos also sings backup along with Styrene's sister on Generation Indigo.)

But those are different stories all together. Generation Indigo, which is Styrene's name for a growing generation (the same one her daughter was born into, as it pertains to spiritual auras) that will finally have enough of hate and wars. While a cantankerous critique on modern society, much like where she started in the 1970s, the album is upbeat.

Songs that have a sense of permanence include I Luv Ur Sneakers, Virtual Boyfriend, Trash City, and Kitsch. The heavier content includes Colour Blind and Code Pink Dub. In several interviews, Styrene said that had she written the songs today as opposed to months earlier, it would have been a different album, darker all around. The entire album is worth the download, with Ghoulish among the most underrated songs inspired by Michael Jackson.

Generation Indigo Shines Brightly With An 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Produced under the guidance of Youth (The Verve, Killing Joke, The Fireman, Edwyn Collins). She originally brought 15 songs to the producer, who kicked out several and told her to write five more with better hooks. You can also find what will become a classic video on YouTube, with Styrene running down the thoughts beyond every track.

Generation Indigo is available on iTunes. Generation Indigo is also on Amazon and a special edition CD was recently released at Barnes & Noble.

Rich Becker contributed to this review.
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