Albums Revisited: PiL’s ‘Album’ Turns 30: Anger Is A Everlasting Energy.
January 27th, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of PiL ‘s(aka Public Image Ltd.) Album, one of the most curious and interesting post-punk albums of the 80’s.
Ex-Sex Pistols vocalist Johnny Rotten (real name John Lydon) had steered his follow-up group on a unique musical trajectory; early band efforts explored dub reggae and dance beats, conjuring many of the abrasive tones that would later influence Industrial music.
With Album, the band made their heaviest yet most melodic effort to date, using musicians that were diametrically opposed to the punk/post-punk/college rock aesthetic. These included Cream drummer Ginger Baker, and shred guitarist Steve Vai, who played with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, as well as a successful solo career.
Think about that; the guy who played on David Lee Roth’s cock-rock stinker Yankee Rose worked with John Lydon.
Lydon explained his use of session musicians to BBC Radio; Most of the songs…were written at home…I didn’t think the [1984/85 touring] band were good enough or experienced enough really to, like, record the song properly.
He expanded upon this to NME: And that’s why I use session people…I make records for myself. I want them to be completely precise. Accuracy is very important to me.
The album was produced by Bill Laswell, whose also worked with Motorhead, Iggy Pop and the Ramones, and his approach was the perfect mix of muscle and polish.
Lyrically Album was a typical John Lydon salvo; the man never suffers fools and each song is a sonic middle finger; Opener FFF (Farewell Fair Weather Friend) has a histrionic guitar attack that augments his lyrical bite; On you no one can depend; Bad times, now they must end…Logic is lost in your cranial abattoir.
Album‘ biggest single was Rise, the most melodic track on the album with an echoing guitar that was highly influential on U2’s The Edge (Lydon accused him of plagiarism, adding: That’s a band that never should have existed. There’s no life experience in any of their songs. Ouch).
Rise’s lyrically charged content is both caustically angry yet oddly hopeful, fitting given Lydon was inspired by the Apartheid struggle in South Africa, and many of the lines were quotes from victims of government abuse. Anger Is An Energy is as fine a rock slogan as any.
The album is full of fun, prankish moments; take Fishing, whose guitar riff is an extrapolation of the childhood taunt Nanny-Nanny Boo-Boo. It culminates into a howling beast of a solo from Vai. At other times it has an eerie somberness, such as the stark Ease, which is anything but.
But Album might be best remembered for its packaging; modeled after grocery store generic products. Each format was referenced in that flat manner; Album, Cassette, Compact disc.
It’s look was likely influenced by the grocery store scene in Alex Cox’s iconic film Repo Man.
While Album bears a slick 80’s sheen, it still sounds strong; a unique sonic one-off in Lydon’s catalogue.
Want to own Album or Compact Disc on iTunes or Amazon? You can order via the links below:
You might also enjoy other albums in our Albums Revisited Series: