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.

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