OnlineRock Blog

01 March 2012

Public Image Ltd. Returns This Recrod Store Day

By Tomi Mendel

Pioneering post-punk band Public Image Ltd. has announced they will release a new E.P. and album, their first new music since 1992. April 21, this year’s Record Store Day, will see the release of the four-song One Drop E.P., with the new record This is PiL following on May 28. Frontman John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, claims he funded the recordings out of pocket with money earned from working on an advertising campaign for Country Life butter in the U.K. In early February, the group premiered the title song, from the new E.P. on BBC radio, bringing their trademark dark, warbling, post-punk to a new generation.
“One Drop,” recorded from the BBC 6 radio premiere on Feb. 13, 2012.

Unfortunately, Public Image Ltd. has long lived in the pop culture shadow of Lydon’s other band, The Sex Pistols. While the Pistols may be the quintessential punk rock band, PiL was, musically speaking, a great deal more innovative and perhaps more influential, as well. They were one of the first bands of the punk era to start playing around with strange sounds and experimental ideas, paving the way for countless groups that followed and helping to lay the foundation for what would become alternative music and indie rock. Their unique combination of krautrock, punk, dub reggae, and art rock, proved to have quite a far reach. From an ideological perspective, their proclaimed rejection of rock ‘n’ roll was a powerful message, as well, and the symbolic significance of the ex-Johnny Rotten denouncing the music he had just created with the Sex Pistols cannot be overlooked. 

Some confused dancers listening to “Poptones” and “Careering.”

One downside to the Public Image Ltd. reunion is that most of the original members are not returning, having already left the band well before 1992’s That What Is Not. In particular, bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene are missed, crucial as they were to the band’s sound on their first, most influential albums. In those early days for the group, they were just about unclassifiable, and clearly no one knew quite what to make of them. How else can we explain them earning a surprise disco hit with the pounding “Fodderstompf” and even making an appearance (possibly the weirdest one ever) on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1980. An album like Metal Box is definitely some of the most experimental music ever released on a major label, and Wobble and Levene were major elements of that. For his part, Keith Levene’s characteristic guitar work on songs like “Public Image” clearly laid the groundwork for acts like U2. Meanwhile, Wobble’s unmistakable bass lines have made him a hot commodity in the post-PiL years, including collaborations with Bjork, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, and Brian Eno.

Sounds a lot like U2’s the Edge playing guitar on this song, don’t ya think? 

Although PiL’s later albums were not nearly as groundbreaking, Lydon and his assorted band-mates still managed a number of winning songs. “This Is Not A Love Song” is a brilliantly postmodern tune from 1984’s This is What You Want...This is What You Get that received a recent coffee-house update by French group Nouvelle Vague. 1986’s Album featured surprising appearances by Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Ginger Baker, leading to catchy songs like “Rise.” John Lydon also managed to stay on the cutting edge with some strong solo collaborations, including an early rap-rock song with Afrika Bambaata and a characteristically warbly lead vocal on U.K. electronica act Leftfield’s “Open Up.” Even though Public Image Ltd. petered off in their last few years, the new song, “One Drop” is decent and should give hope to fans. With any luck, the glut of recent indie and electronic acts that owe a debt to PiL’s music will inspire the group to do some good work. If not, we’ll all just have to give Metal Box or The Flowers of Romance another spin. 

John Lydon singing with Leftfield in 1993.

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