I know I’m not going to win any friends with this review but you all like honesty, don’t you? Light In The Attic has reissued the first Public Image Ltd. album and I’m a fan of their reissues; beautiful fetish objects loaded with liner notes, photos and other assorted memorabilia – if you haven’t picked up their reissue of the Monks’ Black Monk Time, stop reading this now and go get it!!!
The reissue for First Issue or Public Image – First Issue or whatever it’s called is no exception. Light has released it in several packaging options including one with a bonus b-side to the “Public Image” single called “The Cowboy Song” and a 56 minute long BBC interview. Also, considering that the original album was never officially released in the states and that the only CD issue is from 1986, the album was due for a retooling.
However, and I say this as a pretty big PiL fan (I have the dang logo tattooed on my inner fore arm), Metal Box/Second Edition is the only album by the group that I find satisfying all the way through. They have some pretty awesome material but, unfortunately, upon revisiting the album, I don’t find it musically enjoyable from start to finish.
Look, I’m not one of those music philosopher guys who thinks the Pistols “separated the world of pop music into a then and now” or care about situationism or feel any need to discuss Malcolm McLaren’s involvement with the band. They were awesome and looked cool and Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s the Sex Pistols is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums ever made and that’s that. After Lydon bid adieu to the stagnating Pistols – as in they entirely stopped writing new material – he hooked up with former Clash guitarist Keith Levene, old buddy and bassist John “Jah Wobble” Wardle and Canadian import drummer Jim Walker and started PiL.
But we’re not here to talk about music history; we’re here to talk about songs. The first PiL has eight of them and of those eight, I really only enjoy five. So let’s get to the nitty gritty. “Religion 1” isn’t even a song. It’s John Lydon reciting the lyrics to “Religion 2” without any musical accompaniment. Sounds exciting? Well, it’s not. So there’s two minutes you can shave off the album. Next we have “Attack.” Well, for a guy who “hates rock ‘n’ roll”, it sure as hell sounds like a rock ‘n’ roll song or rather a poorly written Sex Pistols song. Don’t believe me? It’s mid-tempo punky rock with three distorted chords only it’s recorded really poorly and the lyrics go something like “Attack-attack-attack-attack-attack-attack” – real clever, huh? And, lastly we have “Fodderstompf”, which predicts the bass driven, dance grooves on the next album but, when Lydon and co. repeat the same “be bland, be boring” joke over and over, the song becomes bland and boring.
Now let’s talk about the good stuff! Opening track “Theme” might have seemed unusual at the time but now it’s a delightful nine minute drone of hypnotic, dub bass lines and “metallic” guitar scrapes with a similar tone that The Edge would use a couple years later. The lyrics are just vague free association about not being a cliche and surviving and he repeats “I wish I could die” a lot. “Religion 2” is fun if a bit repetitive since it only has two parts but man is that a cool angry bass line and the drums pound hard and John Lydon trashes the Catholic church. No deep meaning there. Next we have the energetic, mid-tempo punky rocker “Annalisa”, which according to the Pitchfork review is about an exorcism gone wrong. They call the song “harrowing” but I call it bouncy and fun. And of course last but, most certainly not least, are the pair of bright, shiny pop songs! “Public Image” and “Low Life” are cut from the same principle cloth of basic but catchy, two-note bass lines and cheery, non-distorted jangly chords. The former became Lydon’s initial calling card as he tells his former manager, “hey man! you don’t own me, man!” The latter I guess also trashes McLaren or something.
I know, I’m supposed to drool all over myself because it’s back but I’ve been listening to this mofo for years even if it’s on a poorly mastered CD. Oh, that’s right! “The Cowboy Song” is like a cowboy song with galloping drums. And what info can you glean from the 56 minute BBC interview? I don’t know. I haven’t listened to it. I’ll just wait until someone posts on youtube. I’m more looking forward to the Devo reissues of Hardcore vol. 1 and 2, which will be hitting my doorstep soon. Until then, see ya!