"You are now entering a PiL zone", affirms John Lydon on the self titled opening track 'This Is PiL'. The lyricism is limited to a few variations, "This is PiL" / "Public, Image, Limi~ted" / "Welcome to PiL" / "We are PiL" and my favourite, "And we're quite appealing", with a little pun there. 2012 has seen the return of Public Image Ltd. in studio form, releasing the funky One Drop EP, their first studio release since 1992. And now Public Image Ltd delivers their ninth studio album, This Is PiL. Three years have passed since John Lydon organized the bands reunion, completely funded by his controversial 'butter commercials'. Which is also completely understandable, faced with crippling finance issues and 'no future', the only reasonable option for a famed musician and public figure is to indulge in money for old rope, commercials. Thus, we wouldn’t be gazing upon this album without Country Life butter.
The opening track has an ethnic orientated instrumental. Guitars are spacious and stretch beyond the basic chords. Noting the acoustic guitar, this has a simplistic two chords progression and has effects which make it sound like a Sitar and like several past PiL tracks, Raga. The soaring electric guitar towards the end of the track wasn’t expected and is designed for opening tracks. Lydon's monstrous vocal opening is partially a put off; fortunately the following instrumental and subliminal reverberation brightens the track as Lydon adds his 'poetic' touch. 'One Drop' has been circulating for a few months now, and is simply the 'single' on the album. PiL have always been in-tune with their bass, and it never fails to surprise/steal the show. Lydon's energetic vocal mixed with the politically fuelled lyrics add a homey touch on a standard instrumental, "We are the ageless, we are teenagers. We are the focus, of all the hopeless." This sound is quite common, even if the bass and guitar sound different to previous PiL recordings, it still has that bog standard stark sound which is unavoidable by the musicians, and falls on the production team.
Reggae has always been an influence on PiL's sound. In fact, PiL has always been the answer to sub-categories and genre defining bands. PiL are quite simply PiL, with no affirmative genre and no standard background, just the way John Lydon wants it, and arguably the decisive way to present yourself. Because of this, PiL are not grouped or herded among other sheep falling under the label. 'Deeper Water' brings the 2-tone intonation into focus yet again. The guitar layers are amazing and add that extra bit of spice and characteristic exempt from the pedalling bass and routine drumming. The support vocals prove effective and give the track a band sound, compared to the number 10, the one man, the Johnny Rotten show. 'Terra-Gate' has fantastic lyrics, with Lydon delivering the vocal with pure dominance and confidence. The delay does Lydon justice, with his speedy vocal and ever-changing vocal style. The listener will eavesdrop "What you hate, you probably fake" / "Mad as you are, you probably fake." The guitar work is phenomenal and the overall sound is surprisingly compact compared to many of the other tracks on the album.
'Human' features some exquisite guitar work and a metal-esque solo which blows my mind, due to the 'Why?' factor. It’s not really needed as the heavy guitar drone plays its part nicely. Lydon speaks his mind, "I think, England's died" / "I miss those roses, those English roses" / "Of cotton dresses skipping across the lawn. Of happy faces, when football was not a yawn." Lydon is characteristically angry, and his views and opinions are thoroughly shared by many Britons, he's not on his own this time - No future. 'I Must Be Dreaming' is one of the tracks featured on the One Drop EP. This track doesn’t capture the full essence of PiL. It has more of the standard and less of the abnormal. Lydon does deliver an incredibly aged vocal and the reverb on the guitar works efficiently, but the support vocals are dreary and the drumming definitely doesn’t hit the right mark. 'It Said That' has a rather unusual instrumental... Scrap the Lydon vocal and you have something designed for a James Bond film / Dynasty Warriors game. The studio effects are becoming handy for the band members, using reverb and delay extensively and taking control of electronics minimally. Lydon is in a league of his own when it comes to lyrics because his subject matter changes and varies with no repercussion and no warning.
The following two tracks 'The Room I Am In' and 'Lollipop Opera' are featured on the One Drop EP. The EP was specifically for record store day and gave an insight to 'what to expect' from the new PiL album. It’s fair that these tracks are included on the album; however one third of it is taken up by the EP tracks. The Room I Am In being the egotistic Lydon spoken word track with a horrifying instrumental and a western theme with the slide guitar and dissonant drum pattern. Lollipop Opera turns heads with the fresh drumming and even fresher bass work. The child-like introductory vocal by Lydon makes good use of effects yet again and the bass takes full control and takes the listener on an adventure with wobbles and electrifying guitar pieces. It is, however, a shame that Jah Wobble isn’t creating these wobbles, and Keith Levene isn’t designing these guitar pieces. Some would say Public Image Ltd. isn’t, without 'Wobble & Levene', a re-occurring phrase. In contradiction, This Is PiL, as the album is purposely entitled. It still, well and truly is a John Lydon project. And it was a John Lydon project in the late 70's and the 80’s; it’s just a matter of personal differences that create friction between the PiL fans. That being said, the line-up is completely new, except for the sophisticated post-punk drummer Bruce Smith, who played with none other than The Pop Group of course. Guitarist Lu Edmonds main contribution was on the seventh album 'Happy?'. He later had to leave the band due to a serious case of tinnitus. Wrapping up PiL is bassist Scott Firth, described by Lydon as "A genius at work!" Lest we forget the death of PiL's previous guitarist... The legend that is John McGeoch, who played on the final few PiL albums.
'Fool' is rather enduring. The guitar sounds extremely computerized and 80's. Lydon discovers that he's not the most liked person in the world, and fans realize that this new reincarnation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This track is definitely my least favourite from the album because it’s predictable and pretty obtuse, when Lollipop Opera swiftly comes before it. The bass riff is crawling and the drums ponder on to the point of insanity. The guitar work eventually improves; as does the percussion which includes a symbol for it's climax, yeah, hardcore. The track comes to a thankful end with Lydon reciting his lyrics which are among the most 'out there' and distorted on the album. 'Reggie Song' has a spectacular guitar solo and an even better vocal harmony, which is new for PiL. Lydon delivers his best vocal on the album with a mass amount of layers, and just enough reverb to raise his vocal. He mentions Finsbury Park, as he did in Lollipop Opera. It’s as if he’s focusing his lyrics on one person, say a random Los Angeles resident, who may have asked 'Where on earth are you from??' and John replies.. "I am from Finsbury Park." Bruce Smith delivers his best drumming session on this track, whilst the bass, unfortunately just fills the gap.
We come to the end of the album, PiL's first album release in 20 years. This is no First Issue or Metal Box, it's an album designed for 2012, and in 2012 it will stay. 'Out of The Woods' is just shy of 10 minutes and is filled with harmony, melody, rhythms and rave textures. Synthesizers come into action as nightlife seems to takeover. The drumming becomes increasingly repetitive as the track stumbles on with Lydon rhyming easily. This track has lovely soundscapes and one of the best guitar sounds I’ve heard all year, which can be heard in the final few moments of the track, when the sudden excitement comes to a sympathetic end.
This Is PiL finds itself at 002 on the Public Image Ltd. discography. Lydon has spent years with Virgin Records, and took the awareness and freedom to fund his band, recycle the profits from live shows so they could record this album, and fundamentally begin a new period of PiL with the formation of 'PiL Official' (PiL's record label). By the time you listen to the final tracks, One Drop and Deeper Water appear distant. It's one long process and at 64 minutes long, becomes the most time consuming Public Image Ltd. album to date. It doesn’t need all of its 64 minutes, a few songs could have been scrapped and the listener would be none the wiser, but it's that bit of extra material that makes PiL. The 'singles' were already laid out with the One Drop EP, and to add to those future crowd pleasers, PiL deliver a range of touring material which is a major improvement on their later discography post-1990. It's not ground-breaking and it's not average, it’s Public Image Ltd. doing what they do best, just making an album, and at the end of the day, this is an album, This is PiL.