There was a time when Public Image were the most revolutionary band in the world.
Those astonishing early albums really were game changers. Few people in rock music get to change the world once let alone twice and as Rotten morphed back into Lydon he did it with a vengeance with a soundtrack that was so astonishing that it’s still hard to unravel its complexity and brilliance all these years later.
From the metallic KO with throbbing bass undertones of the band’s first album to the kraut rock- dub- funk genius of Metal Box to the stark, tribal soundscapes of Flowers Of Romance they never rested on their laurels. The insane trio of Wobble -Lydon – Levene could do no wrong.
After that it was Lydon and a varied and talented team of back up players who scored hits with a slightly warped yet polished stadium workout before the band drifted away, only to return a couple of years ago with a quirky comeback album.
What the hell is Public Image in 2015? What does the former scourge of the elderly rockers do when he himself approaches his own dotage? The new album is an odd work – odd because whilst it retains a certain twist, especially with those trademark whining vocals, it doesn’t delve deep into the brilliant weirdness and off kilter music that was so much part of organic early Pil, several tracks are sparse and laid back yet with a snarling poetic delivery from Lydon. Sometimes the quark, strangeness and charm appears on track like C’est La Vie – a smoking and dark piece that sounds like it could have fitted onto Metal Box, it certainly has that mystery that made those early songs so timeless.
The One, with its hooky hook guitar line and pleading Lydon vocal is the closest they have got to creating a conventional hit ever and could even sneak radio play from the radio airwaves. Big Blue Sky is closer to Peter Gabriel than the Sex Pistols as Lydon attempts to escape the straight jacket of his past.
The rest of the time the album sounds almost conventional and sometimes played for cackling laughs – not that this is a bad thing – Lydon is many things but can be really fucking funny. The opening salvo and lead single, Double Trouble, is PiL doing Sleaford Mods doing PiL – the cacaphonic rant about domestic tension over the whiplash guitar loop is one of the most nagging (ha!) and best Public Image singles for years whilst Spice Of Choice is the kind of stadium Pil that dominates this album.
The craft and musicianship is spot on – these are great players and Rotto is free to shout whatever he wants over the top and, at the end of the day, his voice is as addictive as ever and it’s that endless fascination with the man and his whining vulnerability and contradictory intelligence that makes whatever he does so fascinating.