From the Vaults

Love is Like a Silent Movie: The forgotten masterpiece of Poly Styrene’s “God’s and Goddesses”

poly-styrene-gods-and-goddessesGod’s and Goddesses (Awesome EP ’86): After Marianne Elliot-Said left punk pioneers X-Ray Spex she became about as close to Zen as a punk possibly could. 1980’s Translucence, the first of her sparse and sporadic solo discography, traded the brash guitar and shrill delivery for plodding tempos and crude new wave synths. Then she disappeared for years, reemerging in 1986 with this four-track EP, inexplicably stylized as God’s and Goddesses, finding a happy medium between the quick rhythms and aggressive attack of her punk days and her sweet singing voice and newfound calm of Translucence.

The inevitable influence of 80s production values make themselves abundantly clear from the first bolt of electric guitar lightning—but Poly Styrene’s devotion to her Buddhism is front and center, both as subject matter and mode of operation. On “Trick of the Witch” the riffs go wild and the drums tumble, but Poly Styrene gives a relaxed performance, never pushed to rush and catch up with the runaway train tempo until the entire thing implodes abruptly. “Paramatma” casually espouses the simple Buddhist philosophy she’d adopted: “I’m earthly, darling / Earthly, earthly girl,” where she loves everyone and everything, even “all the pussies and the bow wow wows,” so selfless she threatens to disappear into herself, and that continues straight into Side 2 with the churning, infinite “Sacred Temple.” To prove her punk edge had not entirely surrendered to the allure of inner peace, she offers a brief but humorous Cold War joke in “Big Boy Big Toy,” where the big toy in question is a nuclear bomb bureaucrats overcompensate with to impress their secretaries—and even then her invective isn’t acidic. There’s no harsh screaming like with X-Ray Spex, merely the shrugged notion that the whole conflict is childish, and isn’t it kind of funny something so stupid could lead to the annihilation of the species? The instrumentation might be loud and enormous, but her voice cuts clear through the din as a kind of spirit guide, a control she hadn’t quite mastered before and would never quite achieve again.

But more importantly, how will you get this album in your life? It’s not available on any streaming services or downloadable from iTunes. It hasn’t been uploaded in full by any YouTube pirates and it’s not in print as either vinyl or CD. At the time of this writing there’s one British dude selling his copy, but what about when you read this? I found mine completely by chance at a record store, and though I wasn’t familiar with the album I knew and liked Poly Styrene. It remains one of the better purchases of my life. Hopefully it’ll be one of yours, too. A

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