Where To Start With... Public Image Ltd.
Few bands can claim to have had such an explosive impact on popular music – and indeed popular culture in general – as The Sex Pistols, thanks in large part to their snarling, anarchic frontman Johnny Rotten, better known to his mum and dad as John Lydon. Widely credited with kickstarting the punk movement in the UK, The Sex Pistols burned brightly and burned out quickly, releasing just one album - 1977's seminal Never Mind The Bollocks... - and causing uproar in the mainstream media with their outrageous appearance and even more outrageous behaviour.
Some of the band's critics dismissed them as a passing fad – and, in some ways they were right; The Sex Pistols were never the most talented musicians (bassist Sid Vicious could barely play his instrument at all), but there was always more to John Lydon than safety pins and spitting. When the band dissolved just a year after their debut album's release, within a few months Lydon had reinvented himself, releasing the eponymous debut from his next band, Public Image Ltd.
Taking their name from a Muriel Spark novel, PiL's sound was inspired by a far wider range of influences including punk, reggae and world music, all underpinned by Lydon's trademark vitriolic vocal style. While their sound was undoubtedly more accomplished and expansive than that of Lydon's former band, many critics accused Lydon of 'selling out', despite the fact that PiL have never enjoyed the levels of commercial success that The Sex Pistols achieved (you'd be surprised at the effect getting banned by Radio 1 can have on your chart position...)
Not that any of that will have bothered John Lydon. As uncompromising now as he was then, Lydon has released nine studio albums with PiL since 1978, each continuing to plough its own unique furrow, all the while resisting several attempts by the monarch he once lambasted in one of the Pistols' most famous songs to be named in her bi-annual honours list.
This Friday (September 4th), he and PiL return with their tenth studio album, entitled What The World Needs Now, preceded by the album's lead-off single 'Double Trouble' one of the band's best tunes in years and one that pulses with vibrant urgency. Recorded at England's Wincraft Studios, the album features 12 brand new tracks and finds Lydon & Co. on top form. You can find the new record in our stores and download / buy using the link on the right hand side of this page, but if you're new to PiL and wondering why you should do that, below we've picked out five highlights from the band's back catalogue as a guide for the uninitiated.
Public Image Ltd (PiL) - Double Trouble
Taken from PiL's debut LP, 'Public Image' was written when Lydon was still officially a member of The Sex Pistols, but is given new life here with the input of PiL's first line-up, which included Clash guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble. Beginning with Lydon's mic test ("Hello! Hello!”), the song rattles and rolls through its three-minute runtime while Lydon unpicks the adulation of his former band: “You never listened to a word that I said / You only seen me from the clothes that I wear / Or did the interest go much deeper? / It must have been the colour of my hair”.
At over 10 minutes long, 'Albatross', taken from their sophomore LP Second Edition, is one of the most far-out and sprawling tracks PiL ever recorded. Wobble's grinding bassline and Levene's angular, atonal guitar licks chug away under Lydon's haunting, wailing vocals and illustrate why the band were anything but the radio-friendly antidote to The Sex Pistols. It's certainly not their most accessible work, but it's an essential component of what PiL are about all the same.
Taken from the band's 1986 LP, entitled simply Album (or Cassette, or Compact Disc, depending on which format you were buying), 'Rise' is PiL at their most melodic. With its anthemic 'I could be right / I could be wrong' hook, it was one of the band's biggest hits.
Bands like The 1979 owe more than a little to PiL's output and the jangling guitars and swinging drumbeats of 'Seattle', taken from their 1987 LP Happy?, is a case in point. Later included on their compilation The Greatest Hits, So Far, 'Seattle' is still one of their most listenable tracks and remains a live favourite.
'(This Is Not A) Love Song'
Released as a standalone single in 1983 (although a re-recorded version was later included on This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get), '(This Is Not A) Love Song' was written in response to the griping of critics who accused Lydon of being a sell-out. Dripping with sarcasm and imbued with a restless, furious energy, the song would ironically become the band's biggest hit. So much for selling out...