His subsequent choice to explore different experimental pastures with Public Image Limited was, in hindsight, a fantastic example of artistic integrity. The first two albums are classics of the era. Since then PiL’s output has been a rollercoaster of both poignant brilliance and occasional disappointment, if only the disappointment of expecting too much.
The inconsistency of PiL’s output over the years is, to my mind, a sign of an honesty all too rare in bands. It brings with it the (often) welcome breath of unpredictability. They’ve also been knocking crowds dead on the recent spate of gigs, so all the signs are positive. So, what do we get here with the new PiL album? Is the spirit intact?
The album kicks off with ‘This is PiL’ – imagine a football hooligan gatecrashing a Can session. ‘One Drop’ reveals a vague patriotic ex-pat obsession with London. ‘Deeper Water’ even hints at Ennio Morricone guitars along with the trademark Lydon wail. ‘I Must Be Dreaming’ is almost shocking in it’s 80s poppiness, or (as usual) at least it would be without JL mutating the recipe.
‘Human’ is a challenging moment, heavy on the guitars and heavy on the heart “you’re trapped in a class system / that’s pushed you aside / all to the left, all to the right / you’re doomed to slip / you’re doomed to slide / because I think, England’s died” – as I quote those lines, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert is on telly muted in the background and the contrast is delicious – despite Lydon’s sentiments about English roses and cotton dresses, the also-present imagery of school as torture and playing on bombsites remind you that whatever PiL is, it still ain’t showbiz! And ‘Human’ is the highlight of the album to these ears.
Elsewhere, ‘Lollipop Opera’ stands out as one of the livelier tracks, with what sounds like a didgeridoo doodling over a Flowers Of Romance style beat whilst a sometimes megaphoned vocal raps away rhythmically. ‘Reggie Song’ references the Garden Of Eden (but not reggae) and London (again) and rattles along between PiL and PoP – I bet it’s great live. End track ‘Out Of The Woods’ weighs in as the longest (nearly 10 mins) and starts life as a catchy weirdo marching song, like a gentler version of Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On A Rope’.
The PiL sound over the years hasn’t matured so much as got comfortable in it’s own boots – that’s not a bad thing though, just an observation that as the punk generation has now reached middle-age, ‘This is PiL’ has retained the lyrical dexterity to catch the ear, the astuteness to engage the mind and the wide musical landscapes to sound contemporary and hold your interest. It could never deliver the early avant-garde new thrill of, say, Metal Box but sensibly it doesn’t try.
At the time of writing, of course, we have – as a separate project – Wobble & Levene revisiting those classic Metal Box tracks, and we have Lydon touring with this modern PiL. Purists are welcome to debate which is the more ‘real’ and has the greater claims to authenticity – I’d rather just be greedy and enjoy both.
‘This is PiL…..’ is one of the albums of the year and the best PiL album for many a year. It’s also a damn site more in tune with the punk rock spirit than all the three-chord thrashers out there.
Punk legend John Lydon, now leading the latest incarnation of Public Image Ltd will be taking over eMusic to celebrate the release the album “This is PiL”. To read John Lydon’s exclusive interviews and see his view of eMusic, visit www.eMusic.com