In 1995 the album was an unexpected comeback and a lost classic. It was the first new material recorded by the band for years despite many of the songs being written a decade before. On release, though, the album disappeared into a void being out of sync with the times and before Poly got her deserved iconic status.
Bassist Paul Dean was equally shocked at the out of the blue recording.
‘I was very surprised, this was the mid 1990’s and 17 years since Germfree. It was the time of Britpop, Punk was now old news. Poly had 12 new songs and she said the album was going to be called Conscious Consumer and she wanted me on bass. I thought about and said yes of course’
Sax legend Lora Logic was equally surprised by the return of the band.
‘I was ensconced in mummyhood with a 3 year old and hadn't connected with Poly for a long time. She rang me out of the blue, and without any small talk, suggested I come and stay with her in her small London flat to record a brand new X-Ray Spex album.
Excited and without considering any repercussions, I found myself on the train with my tenor sax, (childcare sorted) which had been sleeping in it's case for years, and a soprano sax which I had not played since recording ‘Pedigree Charm’ in 1981.’
The band who also re-formed in 1991, 1995 and 2008 are now revered worldwide for sparking a new kind of attitude in music. The late Poly is now a pop culture pin-up for an originality and feminism that barely existed at the time. Her acerbic, witty and brilliant lyrics and distinctive voice have stood the test of time, and along with the band’s original sax player Lora Logic, she has become part of the punk rock narrative. The fuzzy snapshots of the brief early lineup see the sassy and sharp dressed teenager core oozing talent, originality and style in a freeze frame of pop culture punk rock perfection.
The X-Ray Spex story has been told over and over in books, films and online and yet the band’s second album seems to have slipped from view. Finally lovingly restored it’s getting its moment in the sun and its punky pop/noise songs that drip a punky sass with an added bubblegum melody with Poly’s sassy lyrical genius.
There is not a dud on the album that updates the debut’s kooky Day-Glo genius with a song cycle that are snapshots of the then contemporary culture. The tunes come wrapped up with Poly’s distinctive voice and, finally, Lora Logic who is unleashed on a whole album playing her exquisite sax on each track with her distinctive stand out style that is her trademark.
There is something magical about the way the voice and the sax slip around each other in their own individual perfection. Poly’s instinctive pop nous and Lora’s bleating sax give the songs their distinctive twists and turns.
Paul Dean remembers the recording.
‘It was Poly, Lora and me from the original band and we recruited Crispian Mills on guitar and Paul Winterhart on drums who were both brilliant and had a lot of input.
Some of the songs I was already aware of and had been around for years e.g. ‘Prayer For Peace’. We had a few rehearsals, there were 12 songs to work out. Poly had the lyrics and melody and the band worked out the chords, riffs and song arrangements into a recordable structure, it was a lot of work in a short time.
Sound wise it was the classic X-ray Spex set up with Poly’s unique vocals and raps and Lora’s trademark saxophone melodies swinging it along on top of the guitar, bass and drums. If I remember correctly, it was all done in a few weeks.’
For Lora Logic, it was initially an exciting experience.
‘My first studio memory was being struck by Crispian Mill's (or Red Spectre, his album pseudonym) impressive guitar presence and how tightly he played with drummer Paul Winterhart (or Pauli OhAirt, his album pseudonym), strengthened by a musical bond from years of gigging together. I had seen Crispian play in his first band in his early teens before Kula Shaker. Having previously made friends with his mum, Hayley Mills, from her Krishna Temple visits. It was awesome to find myself bumping into him again on an X-Ray Spex album!
Meeting up with original Spex bassist Paul Dean again, after nearly 20 years, was also wonderful. I very much enjoyed pulling sax flurries out of the ether after Crispian had arranged guitar to Poly's contagious new tunes.
However it was not easy to finish. Poly began suggesting that most of the sax should be taken out. Fortunately, the producer convinced her otherwise and the sax parts were subtly mixed in. Sadly, her emotional and mental decline became increasingly apparent as we went along. Completing Poly’s vocal over-dubs became a priority.’
Finally recorded, the album is full of lost classics like ‘Crystal Clear’ that revisits the tension and release of the debut album whilst ‘Cigarettes’ and ‘Junk Food Junkie’ are closest to classic Spex style with an added pop touch and see Poly still examining the crassness of consumer culture. There is the amusing nod to Iggy Pop in ‘Dog In Sweden’, which is an urgent punk rock missive just like the band had staked their reputation on years before.
There is the nod to T. Rex on ‘Prayer for Peace’ that featured on both this album and the recent Essential Logic Album ‘Land Of Kali’. or the hypnotic mantra like ‘Sophia’ that has the mystery of a Kate Bush in its exquisite grooves. ‘India’ is a paean to the holy nation of Poly’s dreams that embraces a spiritual serenity far away from the urgent rush of the debut album whilst ‘Hi Chaperone’ has the cheeky twist of Lora Logic’s own acclaimed post Spex band Essential Logic given the X-Ray treatment. Lora recalls the album fondly.
‘I am honoured to have been creatively involved with this unique collaboration of musicians and sound engineers and to have contributed to Poly’s extraordinary songwriting and performance’
Listening to the album again after a long break, Paul Dean is surprised.
“Conscious Consumer now sounds so much better than I remember. It wasn’t properly released at the time and so no one knows about it. If you love Germfree Adolescents you will love Conscious Consumer they are linked together. X-Ray Spex didn’t have just one great album it was two!”
The album rewrites the X-Ray Spex story. No longer can they be seen as a moment freeze framed in time back in the punk wars but a potentially longer term project that never lost their creative soul power. No mere flash in the pan, in many ways the album is even more frustrating and full of ‘what ifs’.
Of course, Poly made her own great solo records and Lora Logic was also on her own creative high with Essential Logic but the pair of them working in tandem was potentially one of the great sounds of UK pop culture. They had a rare magic that is the heart and soul of all great music, and the album is finally a reminder of just how much potential there was whilst also being a document of their innate brilliance.
2. Junk Food Junkie
3. Crystal Clear
5. Dog In Sweden
6. Hi Chaperone
7. Good Time Girl
10. Peace Meal
11. Prayer For Peace