X-Ray Spex

Let's Submerge: The Anthology

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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.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 2:51 SpotifyAmazon
2 1:56 SpotifyAmazon
3 2:54 SpotifyAmazon
4 2:34 SpotifyAmazon
5 2:26 SpotifyAmazon
6 3:27 SpotifyAmazon
7 3:14 SpotifyAmazon
2:39 SpotifyAmazon
9 3:25 SpotifyAmazon
10 2:31 SpotifyAmazon
11 3:07 SpotifyAmazon
12 2:58 SpotifyAmazon
13 2:49 SpotifyAmazon
14 2:09 SpotifyAmazon
15 4:55 SpotifyAmazon
16 2:35 SpotifyAmazon
17 3:34
18 3:03 SpotifyAmazon
19 3:10 SpotifyAmazon
20 2:57 SpotifyAmazon
21 3:29 SpotifyAmazon
22 2:33 SpotifyAmazon
23 2:34 SpotifyAmazon
24 3:19 SpotifyAmazon
25 3:06 SpotifyAmazon
26 2:39 SpotifyAmazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
feat: Mari Elliott
2:59 Spotify
feat: Mari Elliott
3:02 Spotify
3 2:42 SpotifyAmazon
4 2:25 SpotifyAmazon
5 3:06 SpotifyAmazon
6 4:12 SpotifyAmazon
7 2:19 SpotifyAmazon
8 1:48 SpotifyAmazon
9 3:00 SpotifyAmazon
10 3:02 SpotifyAmazon
11 1:53 SpotifyAmazon
12 2:58 SpotifyAmazon
13 4:21 SpotifyAmazon
14 2:15 SpotifyAmazon
15 1:49 SpotifyAmazon
16 2:42 SpotifyAmazon
17 2:45 SpotifyAmazon
18 2:40 SpotifyAmazon
19 2:58 SpotifyAmazon
20 3:49 SpotifyAmazon
21 3:25 SpotifyAmazon
22 2:45 SpotifyAmazon
23 3:05 SpotifyAmazon
24 2:35 SpotifyAmazon
25 2:51 SpotifyAmazon
feat: Poly Styrene
3:11 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick