Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New PiL Album Out

One of my favorite bands, Public Image Limited (PiL) has, for the first time in 20 years, put out a brand new album. Called This Is PiL, the new disc is out now.

For those of you not versed in PiL, I'll give you the short version of the story:
Lydon as Johnny Rotten - 1976/7
  • 1978 - Singer John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten, see picture at right) from the Sex Pistols forms new group called Public Image Limited.
  • Late 70s/early 80s - PiL put out three extremely good and extremely influential albums - First Issue, Metal Box (also issued as Second Edition later) and Flowers of Romance.
  • The band's sound was different, groundbreaking and not structured like traditional rock and roll or even punk. 
  • Mid-80s - original lineup leaves except Lydon, band continues to tour and put out records, the best of which is called Album.
  • Early 90s - last PiL record (or so we thought) called That What Is Not put out.
  • All of the above music is an interesting, avaunt guard mixture of grindey, dancey, screechy, rockish music with Lydon's warbley vocal...very different than mainstream rock and with intelligent (for the most part) lyrics. 
  • And then it stopped. According to recent interviews, Lydon says that his record label simply stifled him and would not let him create the type of music he wanted to. So, he waited them out. Once the contract expired a few years ago, he drummed up some cash by - ironically for a punk legend - staring in TV advertisements for Country Life Butter. But, this gave the man funds to get a version of PiL back together and tour in 2010 and 2011.
Classic PiL Logo
My buddy Paul and I went to see the band when they performed in Seattle in 2010. You can read my review if the gig HERE.

The touring and practice set up PiL recording a new album that just came out. It's also important to note that Lydon and PiL did this 100% on their own - recording, producing, fabricating and setting up distribution their new record on their own - no record company. Very punk.

And speaking of punk or post-punk, I fully recognize that the PiL sound ain't for everyone. Grindey music, Lydon's diction and screechy delivery are not what many are up for. It's an acquired taste for sure. But also, not everything has to be sugary and nice. It's the difference between a pop fiction vs. serious literature. And like literature, Lydon and the PiL team deliver a set infested with imagery, metaphor, motif (the sea, relationships, rooms, dreams all make multiple appearances) and story. Anyway, my goal below is not to convince you to like this record or PiL, but rather just to pass on my thoughts on what I've heard.

With that as the set up, below is my review take on This Is PiL. You can check out Lydon's own run-down of his new album HERE. And, he explains the cover art for the new album in a video HERE.

Cover of This Is PiL
This Is PiL. "This is PiL." Well, that's pretty much the lyrical content of this song. As if the album title is not enough, Lydon wants to remind you at the outset that you are listening to and are about to hear a whole album of music from, you guessed it, PiL. In fact, you are entering the PiL zone he says. OK. We get it. From my read of his comments, the song and album title are equal parts a statement about how this current incarnation of the band is Lydon's favorite AND a shot across the bow to former PiL members who have been playing PiL songs live without Lydon or permission. Either way, to me, this song is a clear "miss" and should have been left off the album. It's unfortunate it leads off because even fans like me wonder, "what the Hell did I just buy." Fear not though, the rest of the album delivers.

One Drop. "The laws of nature, they are lawless and free." This is song about the agelessness of true rebellion and a liberating power of a rebellious soul. Lydon typically espouses the viewpoint that age is irrelevant and his line in this song - sung by the 50 something man - that says, "we are teenagers" makes the point. Musically, this is a mid-paced song dominated by Lydon's voice with typical angular PiL guitar as background and in a short solo. The takeaway for me on this one is to embrace your youth no matter how old you are. It's the wild side of life that we need you know.

Deeper Water. "Head for deeper water." Featuring a wicked good descending, angular guitar riff, this song delivers the PiL goods in full. The sea as metaphor for the dangers in life. Yes, been done. But, Lydon uses it effectively as after he describes the various things that can happen to someone in "turbulent seas" and "crashing waves" that buffet and threaten to "dash you on the rocks" he wails that the answer is not to try and save yourself toward land...but no, head for deeper water. No fear, not drowning. Embrace the deeper water and the unknown rather than the familiar but deadly route to land reached by going through crashing waves on a rocky shore.

Terra-Gate. "Mad as you are, you are probably fake." Blazing out of the gate, this is a Lydon rant and bellow about the relationships, ego, ridiculous arguments, fake people and the BS we all (should not) put with. I like it! This is the most "radio friendly" and rocking song on the new album and I can see hitting play on this one over time. It just encapsulates PiL...odd but imbued with Lydon's intelligence and revved up a bit for effect.

Human. "If these are your leaders...they are not good enough for you." Lots of stuff going on in this song...some recollections of what Lydon likes and does not like, nostalgia for England (he has lived in L.A. for some time), how each of us slips up sometimes and advice on being careful who you select for leaders and heroes.

I Must Be Dreaming. "And you know, you're to blame." A slow/middle-paced song in which we learn that Lydon has indeed "just been dreaming." What is he dreaming about? Well, killing seasons, weakness, awaking in a damaging hate, mistaken meanings...among other things we are told. Put it all together and, well, it's not all too clear what this is about. But that is a good thing. That is a hallmark of PiL don't always know exactly what it's about and this leaves the song open to interpretation. Lydon has said this one is about the enduring lameness of consecutive UK governments - the nightmares of that and the potential to dream for better. But hey, the lyrics could mean a lot of things. Check it out for yourself.

John Lydon today
It Said That. "Go gossip that." OK, so after five really great tunes, all with their own character and sound...we now turn back toward something like the opening track. This is kinda a repeated spoken mantra focusing on how people (or the good old Internet) actually say things that are - gasp - not true. Basically, an anti-gossip song. So, this one might not be my favorite on the album, but ponder the fact that PiL has done a song against gossip and tabloid mentality. Not something you hear too often.

The Room I Am In. "Through this window no large orbs ever come into view." This one is reminiscent of "Religion" off of PiL's first album, First Issue, as Lydon mainly talks this "song" through...more like a poem with subtle, aching backing sounds. While not nearly as hostile and cutting as "Religion," in this one Lydon alludes to the narrow folly and trouble of drug addition through the metaphor of being trapped in a room or cell. That we know of, Lydon is no drug addict and if he ever was it is decades in the rear view mirror. But, he has certainly known his fair share and seen the damage done - primarily to his friend and fellow Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and former PiL band member Keith Levine. Perhaps part commentary on that experience, along with observations generally. This is definitely a change up track in the middle of the album that slows things down to a contemplative level. 

Lollipop Opera."What's that? A complaint? The hotel smells?Well it can't have be me...I weren't there." This one features a catchy drum driven beat with some funky electronic sounds to punctuate. Over the top of that, Lydon sings about brooms, rooms, mushrooms and cleaning said room. Huh? And then several times during the tune his voice comes through as if through a tunnel...a stream of fast paced words along the lines of "ticky tock at the lollipop opera." While first listen is a bit odd, this is classic PiL for the modern era - strange, catchy, strange twists and effects. It will grow on you. Not sure what it all means though. Lydon has hinted that it's about the sense of community that working class neighborhoods share. OK. As good an explanation as any.

Fool. "You made a fool out of me." This is a slowdown "bitterness of relationship" type song calling out how one can get burned by someone once loved. And, if you listen carefully, some advice on how to move on..."see you later, baby."

Reggie Song. "No matter where you come from, you can always be a better person." Musically, this song it reminds me of some of PiLs work of the late-80s with the guitar sounds and effects and how Lydon's voice sounds. Lyrically, Lydon talks about "shining like a beacon" to be the best you can be, while offering forgiveness to those that perhaps wronged you in the past. Oh, and Lydon reminds us that he's from London. Solid tune.

Out of the Woods. "As we march, the forest parts, the wildlife darts." Kicking off with a subtle and bass driven beat, this nearly nine minute song starts with a string of rhymes...almost for the sake of rhyming. But as you listen the rhyming becomes less forced and the song becomes stronger and stronger. Eventually you realize that this is a song about a battle with soldiers marching through and charging out of the woods and the things they see and experience. You get the sense that it's an old battle Lydon is referencing as he talks about horses and there is even a very brief banjo interlude. Seriously. Anyway, this is a curve ball ending for sure. I mean, after an entire album about dreams, hardship, forgiveness, honesty and relationships...a song about war. But, for that I like it as it makes you think about

This is a very good return for Lydon and PiL. Clearly, the man has something to say and continues to find unconventional ways to do it. Props to doing the way he wants and bucking convention. At times, such as in "This is PiL" and perhaps "It Said That," it may not come off as well as I'd like, but those are minor speed bumps compared to the success of the record overall. The world is full of expected music and the offspring of X-Factor and American Idol. This is not that. This is authentically "alternative" music worth checking out.

Best Song:
Lots to contenders on this album. By my count there are no fewer than five top notch songs here. But, I'm going to say least for my tastes..."Deeper Water" is the best. It's the best combination of music, lyrics and overall message.

Song to Skip:
"This Is PiL" - literally, the title says it all. Don't bother.

What to Get:
Look, I'd recommend getting the entire This Is PiL album, but if you want to just see what's up without committing the massive $10 to explore new music via digital download of the whole thing, I'd say check out "Deeper Water," "Terra-Gate," "One Drop," "Human" and "Reggie Song."

Meanwhile, you would be doing yourself a favor by getting the entirety of the First Issue and Metal Box (aka Second Edition) albums.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

In honor of this weekend's Memorial Day Holiday...

Below are three pictures from a set of shots I've taken over the years at places where members of the U.S. military have sacrificed all. You can see the entire set HERE.

Battlefield at Yorktown, VA
Point du Hoc in Normandy, France

Inside the Citadel in Hue, Vietnam

Friday, May 18, 2012

Romeny TV Ad - Going Backwards From Day One

Mitt "Corporations Are People, My Friend" Romney has unleashed a new TV ad touting what he will do on day one of a Romney Presidency.

Not surprisingly it focuses on taxes, jobs, energy policy and the economy.

Also not surprisingly - to me at least - is that each one of the things he proposes is a step backwards and towards the exact problems that have enmeshed the USA in a poor economy.

Lets look at the things Mitt he'd do on day one of his presidency:
  • Taxes - a 20% cut for every tax bracket, maintaining current low tax rates on investment income, eliminating taxes on estates, cutting the corporate tax rate to 25% and a few others. Guess who benefits most from this set of cuts? Is it the millions of middle class or poor out there? Surprise! It's not. Don't be fooled by the 20% cut for everyone. That's populist pandering and probably would never happen. The real core here is the corporate and rich-guy stuff. You can bet that stuff would get done real fast and it'll be the rich and big corporations laughing all the way to the bank while still not employing your brother, uncle, sister or kid. Oh, and Mitt offers no info on what he'd cut on spending to offset these major cuts, so the budget deficit could get way, way worse with this plan.
  • Heatlth Care - repeal the Obama health care reform law. Setting aside the rich irony that the Obama plan is templated on the plan Romney himself championed for Massachusetts when he was govern or there, I personally think the Supreme Court overturn the law this summer anyway. But, Romney is using the undecided issue now in the TV ad. Health care costs are a big, big issue in this country and the Obama law addresses them in at least some way. Repeal puts us back to where we were before with climbing numbers of uninsured, unaffordable insurance policies and medical procedures...and who do you think is going to pay for that anyway? Yep, all of us. Again, straight backwards.
  • Energy/Jobs - approve the Keystone Pipeline project that would see a massive oil pipeline built straight through middle America.OK, it would create jobs. Yes. But, it doubles us down on oil as energy instead of getting energy companies to invest in new jobs to create new, cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy. I see this ploy as to please the energy sector. Oh, and guess what those workers won't have while their building the pipeline under Romney's plan - access to affordable health care if they were to be injured or get sick on the job.
Mitt Romney, taking us backwards to the genesis of our problems starting on day one.

Nice to know so far in advance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's Coming From the Right

HERE is what is coming from conservatives this fall in their campaign against Obama.


Will it be effective? One wonders.

I think it's telling, however, that instead of going after Obama on his record, a major effort is going to be put forward to tie him to his long-ago preacher, Jeremiah Wright.

If I had to guess, I'd say this will not be an effective weapon for the Rs. Why? Well, two reasons: 1) this was basically tried before in 2008 and failed, and 2) well, you see...Barak Obama is not Jeremiah Wright. People ain't voting for Wright.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Clinton Bio on PBS

There was an interesting biography of President Clinton on PBS last night. Among the many things covered about his life and political career included the Monica Lewinsky affair and fallout - like they could skip that, right?

In that part of the story, there were a few components that I found really interesting as memories of the time came flooding back:
  • Clinton did it to himself - simply put, if Clinton had kept his Johnson in his pants, the scandal would not have happened. The end. As one of the commentators DC it is full out "warfare," and enemies will do anything to destroy their adversaries. The only way to survive is to not give them anything to do it with. Clinton gave the Republicans just what then needed. I remember feeling this at the time. Thanks a lot Bill! Why give them this?
  • Differences from Nixon and Watergate - during the Lewinsky drama, many on the right were trying to equate Clinton's situation to Nixon's. You know..."as bad as Nixon." Get even for Nixon and the like. But lets be honest, Clinton got oral sex from an internal and lied about it while the Watergate break-ins and cover up exposed that Nixon abused the apparatus of his office in a wide ranging effort to intimidate, punish or steal from his political enemies. This is a very significant difference. I recall at the time thinking how dishonest and manipulative it was for Rs to be trying to equate Clinton's "lying under oath about sex" to Nixon's crimes. Also pointed out in the program was the notion that Nixon felt like those around him were smarter and deferred to them when they advised he resign rather than be impeached or kicked out office. Clinton on the other hand never had any such feelings. Nope. He felt that he was the smart one and never entertained the idea of resignation.
  • Republicans really hated them some Bill Clinton, but the public did not - oh the Republicans hated "Slick Willie." Hated. Yes, they were out to get him. Yes, it started approximately 5 minutes after Clinton won the election in 1992. They could not fathom that Bush Sr. had lost. Did. Not. Compute. And yes there was a "vast right wing conspiracy" to try and bring him down. Paula Jones, White Water, Vince Foster, the WH travel office firings, playing "chicken" with the Federal budget and government shutdown, reaction to the Waco raid and on and on and on and on...conservatives repeatedly tried to pin scandal and shame on Bill Clinton in hopes they could defeat him in 1996 or better yet push him out office all together. Try as they might, none of that worked. And then the Lewinsky thing happened. Boom! Suddenlty had their killer issue - or so they thought. But meanwhile, the American public...while repulsed by Clinton's indiscretion...did not link it to his ability to be president. To the contrary, Clinton held solid popularity through the scandal and actually eneded his second term with the highest "end of term" rating for any U.S. president in the modern era and on par with FDR and Reagan. To me, this pointed out yet again the fundamental disconnect between conservatives and the rest of the nation.
The PBS Clinton bio was as good a political trip down 1990s memory lane as the recent Pearl Jam documentary PJ20 was for music. It really brought back the times. Not sure if the series will run again, but if you see it...check it out. Its engrossing, but also a great lesson in the promise of dedicated and smart people like Clinton and the folly those same people fall into when their ego goes unchecked.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's the Little Things In Life...But Also the Big Ones

I've been on the road for work a lot recently, so have not had time to post much over the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, one thing that occurred a couple weeks ago was the death of a colleague. This was a much beloved woman at the company I work for and many people were saddened by the loss - particularly given how young she was when she died.

Over the course of the funeral, reception and other informal gatherings and conversations that followed, many colleagues expressed how something like this points out how "the little things" in life matter much more than we all think. Most of us get caught up in work or personal dramas that - in the big picture of life - really don't or should not matter much when compared to the simple, easy to enjoy parts of everyday life.

Which of course is certainly true. I mean hey, think about the simple joy of just sitting in your back yard or on your balcony on a warm spring morning and looking at your flower beds. Or, how about taking a nice walk in your neighborhood or cooking a tasty meal. Or, the basic and enjoyable distraction of a good book or movie. Or, the sense of achievement felt by completing a small project around your home. The list could go on and on. These little everyday activities are, in the aggregate, a lot of the good stuff in life.

But then, in the course of these conversations about the little things following the funeral of the departed colleague it occurred to me that while little things too do the BIG things in life. I'm not talking about buying a home or getting a promotion, but more about things like the birth of a child, graduating from school, getting married (or committing to that special someone), divorce...and indeed death.

These are big, monumental happenings in life that deserve to be felt, respected and recognized. They should not be glossed over, ignored or set aside in favor of a lot of little moments. Parties need to be thrown, speeches need to be made, pictures taken, food eaten, booze drank, tears cried, friendships created (or dissolved) around such big life events.

And then finally, it occurred to me once again that both the indulgence and importance of the big milestones in life, together with the appreciation for the little everyday things in life unify to delivery an enduring and all-to-often repeated message.... is short, live well now, love the people in your life now, embrace the things you always have wanted to do.

After all, you never know when your time will be up. You think you do. You think you'll live to be 87 years old and die peacefully in your sleep.  But you don't know. Too often in my own 42 years on the planet, people I've know or been related to have died unexpectedly and way before their time. That's all too real.

So live it up people. Be responsible, treat others well and don't hurt yourself...but live it up while you can.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cinco De Mayo - Pictures

It's Cinco De Mayo. A Mexican national has won the Kentucky Derby. Somewhere, someone south of the border is getting sick on tequila and guacamole.

And all is good.

To celebrate the spirit of the holiday, HERE is a short set of pictures I've taken when in Mexico.