Public Image Limited is an entity that has been with me since that beautifully skewed performance of FLOWERS OF ROMANCE on Top Of The Pops several centuries ago. The unlikelihood of such a leftfield track becoming a hit single was more than enough to make an instant fan out of me. Although their post-Laswell era brought with it a stable and functioning band for perhaps the first time ever, a consistent run of sublime and innovative records masquerading in the field of popular music – HAPPY, 9 and THAT WHAT IS NOT – were increasingly ignored. It is from this period that the current PIL ranks are largely drawn and as with all reconstitutions, lack of what is considered a “definitive” line-up divides fans. So entrenched are Wobble and Levene in the folklore of PIL that the creative contributions of Lu Edmonds and the late John McGeoch in particular still go unrecognised. PIL always required these talented mavericks in order to function effectively and while Lydon could perhaps carry a PIL cabaret with pick-up musicians capable of mimicking, he’s never been one for shadow play. The band’s very essence derives from its existence as exploratory and progressive entity, not an appeasement (contrary to the opinion of many late 40’s fat balding oafs who still can’t quite let the Sex Pistols go).
ONE DROP kicks in with a familiar old school fare: rigid drums, controlled shreds of choppy guitar and post-punk-dub bass resonance that demands volume. As was apparent from their recent live trek, Lydon has lost none of his unique vocal character. If anything, the last vestiges of contrary sneer have weathered into a polished warble and this is particularly effective when the vocals are layered. Structurally, ONE DROP itself is wonderfully infectious and a match for anything this band has presented as a pop song in the past. I MUST BE DREAMING contains traces of PIL styles employed on 9, particularly the slowly blossoming guitar melodies (Edmonds was involved in the writing of 9 but departed before recording due to tinnitus). These effortlessly manage the curious multi-task of being subdued, understated AND the dominant instrument of the track as it pursues a tempered and minimal grove, which confidently meanders without becoming directionless. THE ROOM I AM IN is new ground for PIL, lightly undulating pulses set to stacatoed urban poetry. Elements of its fragmented wordplay remind me of Laurie Anderson’s BRIGHT RED, and there’s also something in there that brings Wobble’s superb RISING ABOVE BEDLAM to mind (although Mr. Lydon may vehemently dispute this!). Clocking in at almost 7 minutes, LOLLIPOP OPERA lets it rip with the rasp of urban scat, a mix of electronic and analogue and the looseness of something developed from a jam in the time-honoured tradition of many early Public Image Limited compositions.
Given that this was initially released as 12” vinyl for Record Store Day 2012, it’s curious that all four tracks appear to be on the forthcoming THIS IS PIL album anyway, and unless they appear in different forms, then this is essentially a 3rd of what they have to offer. Without dwelling on that too much, as a showcase of four different approaches to the PIL oeuvre, it instills confidence in how the band is capable of innovating while holding it’s own against its past. This is welcome news for those who are interested enough to want Public Image Limited to move forward and probably not so welcome for those who forever bay for the ancient school and scream butter ad Judas. – BOZ