Record Review: PiL – The Flowers Of Romance [part 1]

Warner Bros. Records ‎| US | CD | 1990 | 3536-2

Public Image Limited: The Flowers Of Romance US CD [1990]

  1. Four Enclosed Walls
  2. Track 8
  3. Phenagen
  4. Flowers Of Romance
  5. Under The House
  6. Hymie’s Him
  7. Banging The Door
  8. Go Back
  9. Francis Massacre

I was an American living in Central Florida in the late 70s. I was aware of PiL only by reputation. I can never forget the review that I read of this album in the pages of a free local music magazine [either Free Bird or Rocks Off, I forget exactly which one] by reviewer Larkin Vonalt. Suffice to say Ms. Vonalt’s completely over the top, yet hilarious, negative review really made an impression* in those more genteel times; less given to hyperbole. It’s safe to say that she hated HATED the album! It was some time later in the Fall of 1981 that I managed to hear two cuts from the album on a Tampa college radio station [WUSF-FM] and that was it! I was smitten and sought out an import LP of the title; my first, but not last PiL album in the Record Cell.

* – Could you remember the name of a record reviewer 36 years later?

The opener set the tone for the album. The “group” was down to just Keith Levene and John Lydon by the time of the album. Drummer Jim Walker was gone soon after “Metal Box” and even bassist Jah Wobble had left after the tour for that album. Being drummerless, they roped in Martin [Brian Brain] Atkins and then proceeded to make an album that was almost all drums. “Four Enclosed Walls” was one of the song that I had heard earlier. The insidious intro consisted of insect chitterings on Levene’s synth at low level until a long and bold fade-in chord heralded the big, fat, booming gated drums of Atkins. Atkins certainly got your attention and his drum pattern didn’t vary much throughout the track. It didn’t need to. Lydon’s vocals were as irritating as possible over the booming rhythm. He adopted a Arabic sounding tone which fit the tenor of the lyrics, which referenced Alla[h], mosques, infidels, and saracens. Near the end of the song Atkin’s drum track was doubled with digital delay for a couple of bars to get really busy before snapping off for the final drumbeats.

“Track 8” was based on a rhythm loop that almost sounded like a motorik beat, only reversed. It felt like a bird with a broken wing, circling in the dust as Lydon issued his lyrics of sexual repulsion of the female that were almost misogynistic on the face of it. “Phenagen” was a plodding sound of dread made into song with Lydon once again singing to Arabic scales even though the lyrics here had little to do with that culture. More backward tapes flared up at the track’s conclusion, with the drums providing a steady heartbeat.

The title track was a loping drumbeat with Lydon vocalizing as well as playing a Stroh Violin…not that he had any violin plying skills prior to the album. But I have to admit that it fit right into an album where the group’s guitarist only touched a guitar on one cut here [not this one]. The “old world” sound fit the tone of the album.

Atkins featured prominently again on “Under The House” with thunderous, doubled drums keeping a steady, yet pixilated beat throughout the almost Flamenco styled track. The beats became motorik in the extreme and the handclaps used for accent really had me thinking of Andalucia, though the atmospheric drones keening through the track sounded like ancient trains crossing the landscape.

If “Hymie’s Him” sounded like a drumkit falling down a stairwell, then at least the juxtaposition of descending synth chords gave it a musical foundation. It was the one instrumental track here and was originally mooted as soundtrack music for the score of the 1981 werewolf movie “Wolfen.”

Next: …Banging The Drums

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2 Responses to Record Review: PiL – The Flowers Of Romance [part 1]

  1. Echorich says:

    If First Issue help to usher in the Post Punk Era (and yes I say helped as Magazine and Wire have as much, if not more to do with it) and Metal Box/Second Edition was evidence of Post Punks artistic power, then Flowers Of Romance was a springboard of experimentation made necessary by circumstance which stands apart from much of what was going on around it. In many ways it’s a very cinematic work. It’s still the PiL album that I can pick out and play straight through and enjoy start to finish.
    ‘Burn, burn, burn…’ from Four Enclosed Walls is the first thing that comes into my head when anyone mentions Flowers Of Romance. Atkins drums are so powerful and attention grabbing that they even manage to swallow Lydon’s vocals at times. I just wonder what Jaki Liebezeit, and Klaus Dinger think of Atkins’ work here. And this is one of my most favorite moments of Lydon’s vocal performance. His singing strainingly emotional and at times eerily disembodied.
    Track 8 is menacing – Lydon playing his best “Burgessian” Droog here and is very convincing. The tension Levene creates playing against Atkins beautiful off-beat drumming is kind of unnerving.
    Phenagen has a dark, Near Eastern sound to it – more ancient than some Arabic tonal music, it sounds like the music of Persian conquest or torture.
    If you ever wanted an example of how moving music was in the earliest years of the 80s, the title track is a great example. It got massive play on college radio in NYC and any Friday or Saturday night at The Peppermint Lounge would see the dancefloor throb, prance and sway in a natural unison. I swear the song seemed to last for twice as long as the 12″ mix which just buts the single and instrumental versions up against each other. But then that’s what memories do, enhance the reality you experienced.
    I remember my mother being a bit aghast when I played Under The House really loud one summer afternoon. She tended to not critique my musical choices, but that song bothered her.
    Hymie’s Him is the best track on the album to play in the dark. Preferably in an attic room with one small window offering little ventilation in the middle of summer. I know this because I experienced it many, many times.


  2. Pingback: Keith Levene: 1957-2022 | Post-Punk Monk

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