PiL This is PiL album review
PiL (aka Public Image Limited, or P.I.L.) were always a curious beast. When the Sex Pistols imploded, few thought any of the band members would go on to greater ventures, esp given Sid Vicious’s tragic end. So it was with great curiosity that snarling, sardonic vocalist Johnny Lydon (known better by his Pistols stage name, Johnny Rotten) would start PiL, a band that fused elements of dub reggae, skronk guitar and dance beats. They’re credited as one of the first post-punk bands of prominence, and along with Killing Joke helped set up the template for the Industrial Rock movement as well as electronica and trip-hop. And U2 guitarist the Edge is one of many inspired by the tinny, scratchy guitar tone of original guitarist Keith Levene.
The band was active from the late 70’s until the early 90’s when they disbanded. After this Lydon, wrote an entertaining auto biography, reformed the Sex Pistols for a couple of tours, put out a half decent solo album (Psycho’s Path), made a hilarious appearance on Judge Judy, and told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to piss off when they tried to induct the Pistols. But here they area, releasing their first album in 20 years. But is it any good?
I have to say first off, that this is one weird album, even by their standards. Gone is much of the more accessible dancey rhythms and energetic rock guitar that featured on their later albums ( including my 2 favorites, ‘Album’ and ‘Happy?’), and the harrowing oppressive feel of their earlier works ( ‘Metal Box’ aka ‘2nd Edition’, ‘This Is What You Want, This is What You Get’). By comparison, ‘This is PiL’ seems laconic and meandering.
Lyrically this album also seems out of focus, often nonsensical and lacking in the wit and bite that framed their best material.
It starts off with the title track; a sturdy dub bass line appears, followed by Lydon belching and then going into different iterations of the band’s name; ‘This is Pil, P-I-L, you are now entering a Pil zone, Public Image Limited”. This seems lazy and to me fewer things are more boring than a band referencing themselves in their lyrics.
‘One Drop’ comes next, sticking to the dub reggae theme. Not bad, but not great either. Although the line “I am no vulture, this is my culture” does have a nice ring to it.
‘Deeper Water’ follows and this is where the album starts to gain a bit more traction. But what is strange is hearing Lydon’s fragility. He seems broken, and morose. This is a guy who was all about handing people’s asses to them verbally, with no forgiveness, and no respite. There is very little of that in evidence here.
‘Human’ is the center point on this release, and it’s the best song here by far. It starts off slow, then kicks into a nice scratchy guitar riff, with a magnetic stomping bass line that gives the song a strong gravitational pull. I wish more songs on here were like this one. It has a swagger and gruffness that the rest of the album lacks. Lyrically this one is a bit sharper, starting off by skewering much of British culture “If these are your leaders, they’re not good enough for yout” and “doomed to slip, doomed to slide, because I think England’s died”. But then it gets odd as he goes on a litany of the good old days of the U.K. “I miss the roses, those English roses, of salad year and summer year” “of happy faces when football was not a yawn”. In the early band years he went on a non stop rant against British royalty and Thatcherism to the point of seeming apoplectic. While I know nostalgia invades all of us as we get older, it just feels, well, wrong, for lack of a better term coming from Lydon. Perhaps I should cut him a break, but it just doesn’t jibe.
After this the album dips in tempo and energy yet again. ‘It Said That’ keeps on the nonsensical terrain “What is it that? That is a Rat. It said that?”. But the dismal, slightly middle eastern guitar riff is richly atmospheric. I just wish the rest of the song was as good.
‘The Room I Am In’ is another long, incoherent ramble, and musically it’s D.O.A.
‘Lollipop Opera’ starts off with a great careening dance beat and heavy bass. I began to get my hopes up. This suggests something off of ‘This is What You Want’. Unfortunately it’s married to some of the dumbest lyrics Lydon has ever written. ‘You’re Mommy’s got a room. I heard you a got a broom”. “I got a room, you got a broom, I got a mushroom”. Seriously? I expect better from a guy who wrote ‘Bodies’, ‘Liar’, ‘Angry’ and ‘Rise’.
The album closes out with 2 decent songs. ‘Reggie Song’ has a very uptempo feel, sprinkled with strong reggae influences, but it’s very lightweight. ‘Out Of The Woods’ has a nice goth bass line very reminiscent of the Cure, but again it’s hampered by sub par lyrics “General Wood, cause he should, from the wood”. “There we are, come so far, secret star”. Something makes me worry that Lydon has been lost in the woods for far too long. What’s happened to him?
‘This Is PiL’ is an album that will appeal strictly to their diehard fan base, and even then I think they’ll find it lacking. I don’t see any new converts latching onto the band with this release. If you’re feeling brave you can buy from iTunes from as well as some selections of their superior earlier work by clicking here. And if you want any of the suggestions on cd, clicking on any of the images below will take you to Amazon.
[amazon_image id=”B007TDK1UK” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]This Is Pil[/amazon_image][amazon_image id=”B000002KJZ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Second Edition[/amazon_image][amazon_image id=”B000005IRS” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Compact Disc[/amazon_image][amazon_image id=”B00000733Q” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Public Image Ltd[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B006697ADO” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Happy[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B000005JAC” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Flowers of Romance[/amazon_image]