PiL Re-Enter The Fray 20 Years On

PiL Official | UK | 12" | 2912 | PiL001

Public Image Limited: One Drop UK 12″ [2012]

  1. One Drop
  2. I Must Be Dreaming
  3. The Room I Am In
  4. Lollypop Opera

There were two records available on Record Store Day that I was most interested in hearing, the new [posthumous, obviously] Joey Ramone single and the new Public Image Limited single.

I’ve had no real interest in seeing The Sex Pistols on their various reunion tours, as much as the record is a classic. PiL were a more daring musical entity for my money, and I’ve enjoyed all of the incarnations of the band in differing ways over the years. My favorite album is probably still “Flowers Of Romance” but when I had the chance to see PiL finally, opening up for INXS’s “Kick” tour, I was of the opinion that if a meteor had flattened the INXS dressing room prior to their set, I would have still gotten my money’s worth; no disrespect meant to INXS. PiL were in full rock flower then, with the mighty John McGeoch on lead guitar and seeing him with PiL would be the only times I saw him play. I caught the “Happy?” and “9” tours, respectively.

Following their 1992 “That What Is Not” album, the group just seemed to evaporate. John Lydon released a single solo album [which I never heard] and started to earn his living in other ways. The Sex Pistols reunions came and went but I was more interested in Lydon doing more PiL work, since it had more heft to me. His strident takes on dub reggae and Krautrock were bracing and innovative. If he ultimately drifted closer to rock music after trying to leave it behind in his later years, at least he bothered to make great rock music. I saw that the new record would be called the “One Drop” EP. Did this herald a return to reggae in any way?

Apparently so. The title cut is a great sounding song that comes closer to actual reggae than the radical dub style of their early material. Lydon has loved reggae since his youth, and this is the furthest he’s gone in that direction. I have to mention his singing on this EP sounds better than ever. As he’s aged, his tendency towards strident harshness has mellowed and his tone is now richer and more powerful. As Lydon himself put it “more soulful.” Of course, his fervor has never altered. You could always believe in what Lydon had to put across.  The rest of the current lineup are Lu Edmonds [guitar] and Bruce Smith [drums], who both date from the “Album” lineup for PiL. Given that Smith has hit the skins for both The Pop Group and The Slits, his inclusion in PiL again fits like a glove with material like this. Rounding out the quartet is newcomer Scott Firth on bass duties. The new kid in town.

“I Must Be Dreaming” is another powerful song with great Lydon vocals. It strikes territory not too far away from the late period PiL we all know and love. More arresting is “The Room I Am In” which definitely harkens back to “Religion  I/Religion II” with its lyrics first recited by Lydon before being repeated with musical backing. Musically, the track recalls Magazine’s similar track, “The Book,” with its vague sonic forms lying discreetly in the background as Lydon’s delivery takes center stage. His recitation and meter is fantastic!

Finally, the EPs most radical cut finishes out the program. “Lollypop Opera” shows that as Lydon has largely pulled back from being a strident irritant with his ofttimes harsh delivery, he’s found new ways to be grating and obtrusive if that’s his goal. On this cut he’s toasting over a skank beat with the chorus delivered through a megaphone. Edmonds adds gently strummed acoustic guitars to the mix but the overwhelming presence in the song is flange-whomped synth bass with a strong saw filter. Lydon skitters over the foundation of the music like a frenzied rat delivering the lyrics gleefully in a semi-patios. I’m reminded of “Fodderstompf” in overall feel, though the vocals are in no way redolent of Monty Python pepperpots!

Lollipop Opera - radio mix

In summary, PiL has made new music that touches on many of their aspects, some of which, have not been touchstones in a very loooong time. If you’re waiting for another “Careering” then you shouldn’t hold your breath. This record doesn’t so much stake out the same daring territory of past glories as much as recombine DNA from all prior eras of  PiL in fashioning a new platform to begin growing from. The EP is also available in a variety of digital formats from the usual retailers. Boomkat win by offering the tracks in FLAC if you can’t find the 12″. The new album, “This Is P.I.L.,” will follow on May 28th. Watch this space.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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