Of all the bands to court the legend of those heady days of English punk in the latter half of the 1970’s, Generation X were perhaps the movements most colourful strutting peacocks an arresting mix of chic, attitude and flamboyance. Emerging from the infamous Bromley Contingent, a group of friends that would also spawn Siouxsie and the Banshees, Billy Idol and Tony James flirted and cut their teeth with the mythical London S.S. and Chelsea before forming Generation X in 1976 with the enlisting of guitarist Bob Andrews and drummer Mark Laff.
On a personal level, Generation X were my first love, so it’s with a certain amount of fond indulgence to have this e CD ‘Anthology’ collection. Generation X were punks first, and let’s face, only pin up band. At odds with punks elite for their attention to image and the scenes more commercial sound so much so that critics often overlooked and underplayed their worth and importance, thus kudos and acclaim were never really fully attributed. That said this ‘Anthology’ collection will probably do little to change that fact, in essence it is of fans only interest which ultimately is a shame, as on the face of it, it seems like a rushed operation, given that the information booklet inside gives scant details about the band that could otherwise be easily found with little trouble elsewhere, track listings are just that, track listings, no dates of recording or interesting tit bits to whet the palette.
The CD’s themselves, one collects together the greatest hits package featuring all the bands A sides with additional cuts taken mainly from ‘Generation X’, ‘Valley of the Dolls’ plus a few selections from the ‘Perfect Hits’ demos. Disc 2 serves up the ‘Sweet Revenge’ album that never was, which was original slated for release after ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and has been readily available for twenty years either on bootleg or limited U.S. / Japanese releases. The third CD features a non-flattering live set from Osaka recorded in 1978.
Maybe I am being unfair here, but I expected something more. Taking the live selection aside for one moment, besides the early airings of ‘Revenge’ and ‘Triumph’, this set is pretty shambolic, better sets have been recently released by the BBC / Strange Fruit that reveal Gen X as a much tighter and formidable unit. That said versions of ‘Shakin all over’ and ‘Night of the Cadillacs’ are floor rippers not to be sniffed at.
‘Sweet Revenge’ on the other hand is a real curio, as a Generation X fan hearing this for the first time in over 15 years it still sits indifferently with me. It’s difficult to give a true appraisal since these tracks are in the formative stages, stripped down and very lo-fi, pale and poor relations and lacking the charisma and worked grace of the later finished masters key example here is ‘Revenge’. However closer inspection does reveal a band that were in a period of creative despondency, of the 10 tracks on show, four made it to the final cut that was the criminally undervalued ‘Kiss me Deadly’ album. Of the tracks left on the cutting room floor, perhaps only ‘Girls’ shows any glimmer of potential, tracks such as ‘Modern Boys’ are particularly treacherous affairs. Tagged onto the end of the disc are two mixes, by the sounds of ‘Dancing with my wealth’ these were completed after the band split, and it works well because it seems like someone has had the tenacity to bugger around with the whole mix and turn it on it’s head giving the final mix an almost maniac drone shocker appeal. In addition ‘I dig everything’ is pretty neat to, yet it’s the interview with Tony James that gives the insight into the band that the liner notes so admirably failed to do.
All said and done it’s the greatest hits package on CD1 that reveals were Generation X where at, 19 tracks with several glaring omissions, try these for size: no ‘Promises’, ‘Paradise West’, ‘Love like fire’, ‘Ugly rash’, ‘Happy people’, ‘Poison’, ‘What do you want’, ‘Mother’. The final album ‘Kiss me deadly’ is represented by a pithy two tracks though you do get the dance floor / rock crossover groover ‘Dancing with myself’, though it’s the extended mix and not the more superior edit that appeared on the 7 inch. Both the debut ‘Generation X’ and it’s uncompromising mix of inexperienced youthful audacity and fast, trashy, stylish optimism and ‘Valley of the Dolls’ at the time criticised for being heavy and on reflection over balanced follow up are well represented, the latter album produced at the time by Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame and revealing exactly were the bands roots really lay because let’s face it, for all of Idol’s Presley sneering and the whole stylised Mod culture influenced t-shirt designs, Tony James always looked like the kid that Mott the Hoople had forgotten to ask to band rehearsals. Looking back now, ‘Valley of the Dolls’ was undeserved of the criticism it got at the time, a more Americanised sound being honed, tracks such as ‘West One’ (not featured here), ‘Prime of Kenny Silvers’ and ‘English Dream’ already showed a band growing weary of the sulphate nihilism of punk’s fast lane, and preferring to concentrate on more melodic foundations something that had already been hinted at on the sublimely fucked up hormonal charge of ‘Kiss me deadly’ a year earlier. It’s easy to see in hindsight why the band would have been ostracized, ‘Prime of Kenny Silvers Parts 1 and 2’ almost trips with countrified MOR mechanics, a structured epic that is bridged with a wonderful ‘Derwood’ solo before flourishing into a colourful array of harmonies and soothing Eagles like tapestries. Then there are tracks such as ‘Wild dub’ and later ‘Ugly rash’ (not featured), which revealed the bands willingness to fool around with dub techniques, a love also shared by the Clash and Suicide. While the leading lights of punk where quickly trashing rock’s past and refusing to pay their dues ‘Your generation’ with it’s tongue in cheek play on the Who’s ‘My Generation’ was quickly followed by the 60’s obsessed ‘Ready steady go’, and into the bargain probably offered another reason why the band where left to sit outside the tent of punk’s elite. It may also be worth taking a peak at ‘Friday’s Angels’ for it’s sheer New York Dolls narcissism minus the trash culture obsessive ness. Then there are all the ever present usual suspects, the awesome ‘King Rocker’, the psychosis fuelled ‘Valley of the Dolls’, the exuberant ‘One hundred punks’ and the wildly finger burning fretboard madness of the heavy, heavy ‘Youth Youth Youth’.
In the final analysis, as a fan it’s a great trip down memory lane to rekindle a long lost adolescent love, for the casual consumer, ‘Anthology’ only touches the tip of the iceberg it doesn’t do the job of re-appraising how good and vital they were, maybe I was expecting too much, yet don’t get me wrong even were this collection lacks it still crushes the contemporary opposition, in terms of being essential well you do get the ‘Sweet Revenge’ package, yet my advise would be to track down the albums individually and pester EMI to re- release the superb ‘Kiss me deadly’ on CD. Rock on.
originally appeared on http://www.losingtoday.com many years ago…..