It surprised the hell out of me the other day, when I was working my shift in the Barnes and Noble music section, to discover a newly released Public Image Ltd. album in one of the boxes I was unpacking. The artwork was garishly bright and seemed like an odd choice but as soon as I got off work I looked it up on Rhapsody and discovered that despite having some strangely incongruous album art, PiL had some good new material.
Now, my favorite PiL album is “Metal Box” and this is no metal box but overall, I enjoyed it. Starting out with some general comments, Lydon’s voice does sound a bit more strained but it’s been 20 years so I can certainly forgive him. As I’ve said, it’s not as dark and experimental as some PiL material. He keeps it relatively light. The difference in sound is probably due to time and personnel changes. It’s still very much PiL though, even though Jah Wobble still hasn’t returned.
Title track, “This is PiL”, bugged the hell out of me at first. It sounded like a naively headstrong hip-hop artist trying to pimp his crew and act cool. Lots of posturing. But then I realized after listening more that it’s very true to Lydon’s character. It’s very manic sounding, like a crazy homeless guy screaming his lungs out at passersby at dirty, dilapidated bus-stop he’s managed to take over. This is not a slight at Lydon. He has this ability explode with an uncontainable energy that will look loony to some people who don’t dig PiL or post-punk; however, to me and many others, it’s something to be admired.
“Human” is also a resounding success. Lydon waxes poetic about England and how he misses the way things used to be. That’s kind of a brave thing for a punk to do, especially the punk who started out his career singing “Anarchy in the UK”. Some of the best lyrics in the song:
It’s like looking across the great divide
Trapped in a class system
It’s pushed you all aside
All to the left, all to the right
So Lydon manages to get nostalgic while acknowledging the past’s problems at the very same time. Not to gush TOO much but who else can do that? Not a whole lot of people.
There is one song that is awful, terrible, garbage though. It was a song that would not play for the longest time on my Rhapsody account. I had to find it on YouTube to make my experience complete and I almost wish I hadn’t. “Lollipop Opera” goes a little too far for me into “non-rapper trying to rap” territory (think Anthony Kiedis). Maybe it will grow on me but it’s hard to think it will with a title that sounds like it was chosen by Jeffree Star.