This feature has returned from its five-month hiatus with a album that slipped through the cracks of my increasingly shaky memory.
I suppose it was inevitable that there’d be a few gaps in the chronology, discount as I have a shit-ton of records and the task of reconstructing a chronology of events that took place over a quarter-century ago. Those times may feel like just yesterday in many ways, one health but that’s no help for a person who has trouble remember if he ate breakfast this morning.
The forgotten album is Translucence, plague a 1980 solo effort by former (and regrettably late) X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene. My copy is the Receiver Records reissue from a decade later, picked up during the summer of 1991 at the Newbury Comics flagship store in the Back Bay.
As big a Clash fan as I am, I can state with no hesitation that X-Ray Spex were the best band to come out of the first wave of Britpunk. They were platonically perfect punk in a scene rife with cock-rock backsliding and art school pretensions. The wailing sax, the cruncha-cruncha guitars, Poly’s voice turning from cutesy-girly to utterly savage on a dime as she embraced and dismantled the contradictions of consumerism — the band’s Germfree Adolescents LP even has the Clash’s debut beat when it comes to How Andrew Expects a Punk Album to Sound.
Of all the bands mentioned in Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, X-Ray Spex were the one I most eagerly wanted to listen to. Unfortunately, the band’s small catalog of material was inexcusably out of print in 1989. The stuff couldn’t be found on cassette or CD, and even the used vinyl circuit failed to turn up anything except a locked-behind-glass copy of the band’s sole LP sporting a hundred dollar price tag.
It was right at the point that I’d written off ever finding an affordable copy of Germfree Adolescents that the fates finally smiled on me in the form of an taped bootleg sold under the counter by one of the area’s more dodgy shops. It set me back eight bucks, which was big money in my unemployed, pre-scholarship days, but it was worth every penny. I got home too late that night to give it a listen, so I popped in the tape deck the first thing the following morning. I didn’t bother going to my classes that day. I just sat in my room, playing videogames, and listening to the band’s melodically abrasive glory over and over again.
That was the personal-historic context on a summer afternoon in 1991 when I was flipping through the bin in search of anything remotely punky and stumbled across Translucence. A solo album by the best punk band in my (admittedly small) universe? I didn’t even know such an album existed, but willingly forked over the tenner for this unexpected find.
Heightened expectations on that level are never a good thing, and this turned out to be no exception. I dropped the needle expecting a sonic barrage and instead got a very disappointing trip through the realms of hippie-trippie psychedelia and mellow funkified new wave.
I took the record off the turntable.
I put it back in its sleeve.
I put it at the bottom of my still small-ish pile of albums.
I stared at my empty wallet.
I thought about all the vending machine treats and Final Fight games I could have had for ten dollars.
It was such a colossal let-down that I managed to block all memory of owning the record out of my mind until earlier this summer, when it turned up while I was helping my wife organize the clutter in our attic.
I’ve given it a spin or two since that time. The passage of time has seen my tastes come into closer alignment with Tranlucence‘s sound, but still hasn’t reached a point where I can hear the music above the lingering echoes of disappointment.
Maybe I’ll give it another shot in 2042 and see if things have changed.