Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December 2: Generation X, "Generation X"

Artist: Generation X
Album: Generation X
Year: 1979
Label: Chrysalis

When the style exploded into the mainstream consciousness in 1977, there were so many different variations on the punk ethos, it was nearly impossible to appreciate them all in their heyday. Pulling from such a vast array of influences, there were countless bands that took their own, unique approach, and in the process created some of the finest music in history. Aside from the sheer number of bands attempting the style, the other problem with gaining notoriety in the late 1970's punk scene was the fact that nearly every band was living in the shadows of groups like The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Stooges. Bands in the U.K. had even more difficult a time, as the initial wave of U.K. punk was massive, and competing with bands like The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and The U.K. Subs made things even more difficult. However, there were a number of bands that, though not gaining as much notoriety at the time, have stood the test of time and in later years proved to be just as important as the more well known groups. One of these bands stand as one of the few groups to pull of the punk style whilst infusing early elements of what would become "new wave" and created some of the most musically superior punk rock in history. Also incorporating a sound that is at times more glam rock then punk rock, there has simply never been another band quite like Generation X. From their unique musical approach to their brilliant lyrics, they were a group like no other; and that's not to ignore their one-of-a-kind frontman, Billy Idol. With a handful of EP's and singles to their name, the group never sounded better then on their 1979 self titled debut, and the record is just as fantastic and powerful today as it was thirty years ago.

The fact that the group was not as "hardcore" as many of their peers set them apart from the core of the punk scene, yet in many ways, Generation X remains the prototype for what would become the "power punk" sound that emerged nearly twenty years later. There are a handful of different releases of Generation X, as the U.K. and U.S. releases were different, and the album has also been re-released over the years. While the original U.K. release of Generation X contains eleven tracks, when the album was released in the U.S., three tracks were removed, and four different tracks put on the album instead. Among these four additions was a rather strange choice for a punk band, a cover of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth." Furthermore, of the tracks that were omitted, "Listen" and "Invisible Man" remain two of the groups' finest compositions. Along with these two vastly different releases, in 2002, the original U.K. release was remastered, and five of the bands' early singles were tacked onto the end of the record. For the purpose of this review, I will be using the original U.K. release, as it remains the finest edition of the record to date. Everything about Generation X is wonderfully unique, as their songs are more about being "cool" as opposed to many of their contemporaries who were more about changing the world. This is not to say that the group lacked power or meaning, they simply took their own approach, and the results are as authentic and important as those of their peers.

Among all of the late '70's U.K. punk bands, few were more musical then Generation X, as the group found the idea balance between the minimalist approach of punk, and a more pop-centric sound. The band actually formed out of the original lineup of the group Chelsea, as 3/4 of the members left vocalist Gene October after only a few shows together and formed Generation X with Idol on vocals. Generation X's sound is led by guitarist Bob "Deerwood" Andrews, and his sound is far cleaner and more technical than a majority of his peers. With a knack for writing fantastic guitar hooks, Andrews moves far beyond simple power chords, as is highlighted by his playing on the classic "Ready Steady Go." Bassist Tony James has perhaps one of the most interesting pedigrees of any person in the punk movement. James began his career as part of the band London SS, which featured Brian James of The Damned, as well as Mick Jones and Terry Chimes who would go on to be part of The Clash. After finding his way to Generation X after his brief stint in Chelsa, James flourished with the band, creating some of the most devastating basslines in music history. In 2002, James reunited with Mick Jones and the duo perform as Carbon/Silicon. The final element of the musical assault found on Generation X is the drum work of Mark Laff. His performance on the album is absolutely perfect, though he would be the first to leave the band when he formed Empire only a few months after the release of Generation X. Proving that the punk spirit could be just as potent with more concentration on the musical arrangements, Generation X laid the groundwork for the heavier "new wave" bands as well as the "pop punk" sound that would emerge nearly two decades later.

While the music on Generation X is absolutely fantastic, easily the most recognizable aspect of the music is the vocal delivery of Billy Idol. Though in modern times, he is perhaps better known for his string of solo hits throughout the 1980's, one cannot overlook his phenomenal work with Generation X. The album features some of the finest lyrics of his career, and Idol brilliantly combined a solid singing voice with the swagger, style, and snarl that perfectly embodied the punk attitude. Able to sing powerfully just as magnificently as he could shout a crowd moving anthem, Idol represents everything that one could want in the lead singer of any rock band and his vocals are truly perfect on every song on the album. Perhaps the best known song off of Generation X is the timeless "punk ballad," "Kiss Me Deadly." Again taking a musical approach that was so far from the traditional punk sound that no other band had even come close to such a sound, the song in many ways was a precursor to the countless "heavy ballads" that permeated the music of the "hair bands" of the 1980's. The song has gone onto a nearly iconic status, as it has been covered countless times over the years, most notably when it was a hit in the late 1980's for ex-Runaway's guitarist, Lita Ford.

Proving that concentrating more on the music did not mean a loss of attitude or authenticity, seminal U.K. punk rockers Generation X unquestionably stand today as one of the most influential bands in music history. Holding strong to the ethos and vocal style of the punk movement, yet writing music and lyrics that were far superior to a majority of their peers, it was largely due to the efforts of Generation X that the "pop punk" sound developed, as well as giving "permission" to heavier bands to perform ballads. Grouping together a trio of the finest and most creative musicians of their era, Generation X remains just as important as their peers who gained greater notoriety over the years. Truth be told, Generation X worked closely with Martin Rushent, who also produced records for The Buzzcocks, T. Rex, and XTC among countless others. This wider range in musical experience was essential in aiding the band in honing their unique take on the punk ethos, and the results stand today as one of the most amazing records ever recorded. Powered by the lyrics and absolutely superb vocals of Billy Idol, after experiencing Generation X, one cannot deny that Idol's work here is far superior to any of his hit singles from his solo career. Though the band released a great deal of music for a group that was only together for a few short years, no other band, nor the band themselves ever released a record as musically original and stunning as Generation X's 1979 self-titled masterpiece.

Standout tracks: "One Hundred Punks," "Ready Steady Go," and "Kiss Me Deadly."

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