Public Image Limited – This is PiL

It’s been twenty years since the last Public Image Limited album and the first sound the listener is greeted with on the title track is a weak beer belch from John Lydon, followed by the sarcastic announcement of “Lucky you” spoken in a voice that is uncomfortably reminiscent of an old person with Down Syndrome.

And this is PiL after a twenty-year hiatus? S i g h.

“This is PiL” is a turd of an opening. It should’ve never been included on the album. Lydon told NME that it’s a song that he created to not only open the album with but also PiL’s concerts. Seasoned PiL fans will remember that Lydon, to the surprise of many, including Robert Plant, used an instrumental version of Zeppelin’s Kashmir to open up shows in 1986. In all fairness, underneath Lydon screaming and howling “PiL” over and over again, there is a persuasive and attractive musical track that overrides the silliness of Lydon’s repetitious rants. Thankfully, the album gets better.

One of the most successful tracks is “One Drop,” the first single from the album. Lydon’s vocals are scratchy and raw to the point where he sounds menacing, foreboding and convincing we he proclaims, “We are the last chance.” The song reads a bit long, and Lydon’s unnecessary need to repeat certain lyrics doesn’t allow for the music to resonate and grow, much like he did in his Metal Box years. “One Drop” is a solid piece of music where the band sounds like a tightly formed unit equally contributing to the creative process.

“Deeper Water” is classic PiL; it’s a fantastic tune that is textured and defiant. Lydon howls, “I will not drown” as he tries to keep his head above Lu Edmonds’ stabbing guitar and Bruce Smith’s relentless drums. “Terra-Gate” is an explosive rock song that sounds like it could’ve been leftover from That What is Not.

The first half of the album is a bit more friendly and accessible than the latter, where the songs meander and become more challenging and difficult to digest. “Human” is a slow drive embarrassingly played out over a No Doubt “Hella Good” synth track. Lydon piles a lot of interesting lyrics throughout while Edmonds’ guitar is strong on this awkward waltz. “I Must Be Dreaming” is almost forgettable but it has its charm in the way Lydon is less defensive and softer in his vocals.

On “It Said That,” Lydon’s wordplay is goofy and the music is abstract and shifty. Continuing with the awkward word speak, “The Room I Am In” plays out like a claustrophobic coffee shop spoken word performance. “Lollipop Opera” is an odd mish mash of start and stop sounds punctuated by Lydon’s vocal bits and pieces. At first listen, I took the song as a joke—a throw away track much like the classic PiL track, “The Cowboy Song.” But, after multiple listens, “Lollipop” has become a worthy highlight that would make Captain Beefheart dance in delight.

As the album winds down, “Fool” is another slow drag that you’re sure to skip over and ignore. The lyrics don’t seem quite right, or Rotten enough for me. “Reggie Song” is a pleasant surprise that showcases the band’s ability to push the boundaries of their comfort zone. Lydon’s challenges his fans not to sing along to a lyric like, “Shine like a beacon in the Garden of Eden.” It’s one of the boldest and honest songs I’ve heard in quite some time.

PiL ends with “Out of the Woods,” a marching ten-minute pop song about The Battle of Chanceville. The song begins with a trademark PiL heavy bass and leads into a textured journey through the eyes of Jackson, a Confederate soldier. There are familiar elements of 9’s “Warrior” and “Save Me” from Happy?, but it goes somewhere further when Edmonds incorporates a somber mandolin riff that serves as a creative twist that puts the listener on his/her toes. The density and emotion is tangible, like I’m standing in the woods with Jackson. Lydon’s choice to sing about the American Civil War is interesting and unique. PiL is going in some unexplored musical areas, which leaves me to believe that Lydon has surrounded himself with a solid group of ex-PiL members.

Besides for three or four unnecessary songs, This is PiL is worth the twenty-year wait.  The album is a layered and challenging affair. I’m sure after multiple listens of the album new aspects and nuances will emerge, and maybe those few clunky tracks will become more approachable. Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to have new material from Lydon and PiL. I’m anxious to hear some of these new compositions performed live, after the band has mastered them in rehearsals. I hope PiL’s contract disputes have come to an end and a new PiL album will follow sooner than later.

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June 7, 2012. Albums.

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