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

Pil ca. 1981 [L-R] John Lydon, Keith Levene + covergirl Jeanette Lee

[…continued from previous post]

The other song I heard on the radio was the frankly awesome “Banging The Door.” It began with a very Wobbly bass line that got half a measure to itself before the thunderdrums of Atkins began slamming out their methodical, yet furious beat. Levene’s synthesizers were caught halfway between moaning and howling; a perfect lowing drone attack that never relented while lighter synth tones bubbled up beneath the drum pattern that marched the whole song lurching forward almost against its will. It beggars the imagination that this was not mooted for a single release since it’s the most hypnotic, even riveting, track here. Lydon claimed the lyrics were inspired by the fans that found out where he lived at and ceaselessly turned up on his doorstep. After a while, he claimed he stopped answering the door and even relating to them as human beings. I love how Lydon’s aside to the engineer [and virtual co-producer Nick Launay] “Alright, stop Nick” made it into the song, even the enclosed lyrics sheet!

“Go Back” may have lacked Martin Atkins on the drums [it was Levene playing], but while the beat was not as commanding as Atkin’s work on the album, it did manage to get a bit of funk injected into the album. Making it a singular track in more ways than one as it was also the one cut that Levene played guitar on for the whole album. His astringent tone here was the furthest thing possible from the by then quintessential Post-Punk guitar sound  [see: Robin Simon, John McGeoch].  Lydon deadpanned conservative right-wing cant over the track in the most numbing manner possible as he was busy sizing up the future of Britain. I personally think he got it wrong by emphasizing “don’t look back” so much. I think it’s conservatism’s nature to always look back.

Finally, the album ended on a harrowing, shambolic note with “Francis Massacre.” Inspired by Lydon’s incarceration in Mountjoy Prison, the clattering, chaotic track came close to sounding like a particularly loose Rip Rig + Panic number, with the “free jazz piano” particularly redolent of the other experimental Post-Punk band on Virgin Records ca. 1981. The last third of the song became a grinding scrape crescendo right up to its stark, cold ending. On the 1990 CD, which I bought in the early 90s, hearing the track end only to be followed by a playback of track one in my car CD player suggests an endless, angst-producing cycle, either reflected or perhaps triggered by the album.

This was certainly one difficult, potentially annoying album. I can only say that while I can empathetically posit the disc driving some listeners to drink, instead, I love its challenging, defiant posture combined with very interesting production and engineering gambits courtesy of Nick Launay; who really made his mark on this album. There’s such a creative approach to the sounds on this album, and the use of jarring backwards recordings and other recorded sounds almost became a leitmotif of the album. Its 35 minute playing time insured that even its most left-field moments never overstayed their welcome, though I must admit that my greatest love here were the two longest tracks; “Four Enclosed Walls” and “Banging the Door.” In my fevered imagination, I have pristine 12″ singles [with extended remixes] of each of these tracks as singles #2 and #3 in my Record Cell.

Following this album, PiL lost even Levene and became the John Lydon Show®. As interesting as it could be, it was decidedly meeting the mainstream on a basis as equals on albums four and five before eventually succumbing to actual rock music [good as it could be] thereafter. This album was a prime reminder of just how much of a gadfly irritant that the band were in their Post-Punk heyday. It staggers my mind to consider that Warner Brothers released this on LP back in the day and then released the US CD that I own nine years later!

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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1 Response to Record Review: PiL – The Flowers Of Romance [part 2]

  1. Echorich says:

    Banging The Door is the albums link to the first two releases. It may not be contemporary with Metal Box/Second Edition, but it fits pretty easily with the music on that sophomore album. The key to the song is the drone – it’s the blood coursing through the heart pumping of the drums.
    Go Back is another favorite of mine. The martial opening and unstable synths suck you in and then Levene provided that beautiful angular shard guitar. The guitar never seems to get ahead of the relentless drums, but it stands as one of my favorite pieces of guitar work I have ever heard. With lyrics of such political import set against a psychotropic nightmare of music, how could you not include Go Back as one of PiL’s most successful pieces of music.
    Finally, and Monk, you took the words right out of my mouth (please excuse the MeatLoaf reference) by referencing Rip Rig + Panic, Francis Massacre is just a huge release of energy and emotion. I have always felt there was a bit of a piss-take going on here on the part of Lydon, using the very obvious tribal drums that were the stock in trade of just about everything McLaren had his hand in at the time.
    Alas, as you say, this was the end of the Public Image Ltd Imperial Period. For me, they would never be ahead of the game…maybe gliding along it, but never, ever ahead of the curve.


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