For the most part, female artists of the punk and post-punk generation have better retained their credibility than their male counterparts. Although not every snarly young man has grown up to pimp condiments a la Johnny Rotten, the small successes — think Paul Simonon and Mick Jones from the Clash backing cartoon band Gorillaz — have been contributive in their output rather than visionary. Much like former Slits member Viv Albertine and her Flesh EP from last year, Poly Styrene, the former front-teen of X-Ray Spex, has gone and done the unthinkable. With Generation Indigo, Styrene’s first solo album since 2004’s Flower Aeroplane, she has taken the Spex blueprint and modified it to perfectly fit the foibles of today’s generation, the end result sounding a bit like M.I.A. minus the sometimes petty forays into provocation. In short, Styrene has reinvented herself as an elder perfectly attuned to and capable of commenting on youth culture.
Much like Germ-Free Adolescents, songs on Generation Indigo take society to task in a fun manner, eventually broadening their scope to consider the war in Iraq and other world issues. Producer Youth– formally of Killing Joke — has been credited as bringing a lot to the table, advising Styrene to continually write new songs, sometimes five in a day. The subject matter and eclecticism of Generation Indigo is patented Poly Styrene, however. Who else could write a song called “I Luv Ur Sneakers” and resist turning it into something totally disposable? Styrene doesn’t just have the gall to open the album with it, she’s made it into an ode to cruelty-free footwear. First single “Virtual Boyfriend” is pure X-Ray Spex in everything but sound. Much like “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo” and “Germ-Free Adolescents”, it tackles a youth trend — this time online dating — in a bouncy way, at the same time inspiring the listener to question the absurdity of having a significant other you can’t touch and who you can dump via a simple click of the mouse.
Songs like “Virtual Boyfriend” are far more electronics-based than the sound Styrene has previously been associated with; throughout Generation Indigo any references to X-Ray Spex are fairly subtle, with a few Lora Logic-esque saxophone bits popping up on “Kitsch” and “L.U.V.”, among other songs. When Styrene goes punkier, as on “Thrash City”, the sound is more fully formed than in her full-fledged punk days. Marvelously, there is not a sniff of embarrassment about these excursions.
Generation Indigo has a near-direct split between the more electronically-inclined pop outbursts and dubbier material, with both sides having winning results. “Code Pink Dub” and “Colour Blind” almost sound like Gorillaz tracks, but see no need to resort to guest stars to get their points on war and racism across. “No Rockefeller” has the laid-back feel of a perfect summer song despite being about poverty. While Styrene has dabbled in reggae and even folk before, closer “Electric Blue Monsoon” is something entirely different, a musically spare and lyrically gorgeous song about Styrene’s faith (she has been a Hare Krishna since 1983) that resists being preachy.
The worst that can be said about Generation Indigo is that it will get — at best — a quarter of the listening base it deserves. Sadder yet, Styrene is currently in hospice care and battling cancer. God forbid we lose a voice as vibrant and inspiring as the one showcased here. 2011 may reward us with releases that are just as bright, witty, and engaging as Generation Indigo, but it is unlikely that someone as singular as Styrene will be behind them.