Can’t speak for the rest of the world but, certainly, I need this new Public Image Limited album in my life RIGHT NOW! Rotten and co extend their Third Coming with some new product and, in a lot of ways, it’s a continuation of 2012’s “This Is P.i.L.” Such a shame old John-Boy couldn’t convince Jah Wobble to rejoin the band six years ago alongside Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith because, musically, that combination is EXACTLY what’s going on inside his head. Dub reggae basslines courtesy of “new boy” Scott Firth mix seamlessly with Edmonds’ repetitive, droning guitar riffs to create the perfect backing music for Lydon’s vitriolic musings and general mischief. Along with grizzled, veteran drummer Smith, possibly the TIGHTEST ever version of the band add a new chapter to P.i.L.’s canon. I missed them immensely during the seventeen years between version 2 and version 3. It’s bloody wonderful to hear something- ANYTHING- from you again so soon, boys!
On to the first issues of the day and the main issues of “What The World Needs Now…” Has the once indomitable John Lydon finally mellowed in his old age? Is his music still angry? Is it commercial? Are P.i.L relevant AT ALL in the 21st Century??? Some of these questions might be answered on my favourite song, track 9, “I’m Not Satisfied.” John’s not satisfied. In fact, he’s going to make sure that we all KNOW he’s not satisfied on this chant/rant which relies on a catchy, Edmonds guitar lick and is, perhaps, the closest in sound to late eighties-era P.i.L. on the collection. Anger as an energy fuels the finale, too, on track 11, “Shoom.” It’s a delightful GIFT for the original Punks still amongst us, all “Bollocks” and “Fuck off” albeit set against a dark electro-beat which is most definitely un-punk. Shades of “The Slab/The Order Of Death” from Keith Levene’s “Commercial Zone 1983” inform the instrumentation here and JOHNNY ROTTEN signs off with this immortal line, “What the world needs now…is another FUCK OFF!”
Elsewhere, differing themes and moods articulate Mr. Lydon’s material such as his playfulness on track 1, the lead single, “Double Trouble.” How the FUCK can ANYONE write a song about a blocked toilet—? LOL. John wants the trouble, trouble on the double, double and only a bottle of bleach will settle him down. “Domestos is, domestic bliss”, indeed. Starting off with a reprise of the bassline from “Public Image”, the song hurtles forward with some angular guitar work by Lu. It’s John-Boy at his cutest, whinging like he means it in a general tirade (“I’m aggravated, not castrated”) but seeking only to make us laugh at such nonsense. The good humour continues on track 6, “The One.” A jolly, country-inflected rompalong putting me in mind of “Lou Reed Part 1/Where Are You” from the aforementioned “Commercial Zone” project. Dare I mention that I visualise His Lordship’s TV ads for a certain well-known brand of butter during the song? Maybe not.
Darker matters are addressed on track 3, the sleazoid, rock groove of “Bettie Page.” A rumination on America’s hypocrisy towards pornography as much as a “homage” to the 1950’s Queen of Titillation, it’s got the Link Wray factor stamped all over it! Track 4, “C’est La Vie”, takes us into familiar Lydon lyrical territory as John reflects on death and an “old enemy mine”, crooning over a gentle but hauntingly affective soundscape (which, actually, sounds like it was written for “This Is P.i.L”). Who could he possibly be on about? Vivienne Westwood? Keith Levene? Martin Atkins? Or is he, in fact, reflecting on HIMSELF—?
Looking back to his youth, John gives us a song with a strong Pistols-esque resonance, track 2, “Know Now.” It’s an urgent, abrasive rocker, “Don’t need to know you, don’t want to know you”, which would have fit in well with the Pop numbers “Annalisa”, “Low Life” and “Attack” on the band’s debut album. In direct contrast, track 9, the machine-like “Corporate”, gives off an almost Aboriginal vibe with added Lu Edmonds, multi-instrumental noodling to boot. “Murderer!” intones Johnny as he bemoans the slow death of our “Global Village” sensibility.
A couple of “fillers” pad things out (in the best possible way, of course!). ”Spice Of Choice”, track 5, puts me in mind of 1986’s “Album” with its distinctive guitar breaks whilst I must confess that track 8,“Whole Life Time”, plods a little bit. Running through the entire body of work, however, is one central theme which can be best heard on cornerstone track 7, “Big Blue Sky.” Beginning with vocals reminiscent of Native American ceremonial singing (incidentally, check out the fabulous John Lydon-painted sleeve artwork depicting a Hopi Indian Kachina clown doll- a kind of jester or fool figure), the song finds Lydon meditating on his own mortality; a sobering awareness which informs all else here. Underpinned by an extended, eight minute long jam, it leaves one to only imagine the thoughts of a man who has SURVIVED as all around him have left the planet. R.I.P. Sid Vicious, John McGeoch, Malcolm McLaren. Perhaps this is EXACTLY the reason why P.i.L. devote their “message” to world Peace and tolerance and understanding? If it means our protagonist has mellowed in his old age well then, yes, he’s a better person for it. His music is still angry but the anger is tempered by self-realisation and positive thinking. It isn’t commercial but it is necessary. Indeed, as the world turns into shit through global warming, mass consumption and political/religious scheming, I can think of nothing more musically relevant to the 21st Century, currently, than this fine body of work from this fine body of men.
If I was nit-picking, I’d have liked a sample of the REAL “What The World Needs Now” incorporated somehow into “Shoom” (a la The Sex Pistols sample on “Acid Drops” from 1992). But it’s a minor quibble. This is what you want, this is what you get with any P.i.L. record: – tribal, hypnotic, trance-inducing sound (hell, P.i.L. were Trance even BEFORE Trance) coupled with John Lydon’s visions of world destruction/world redemption as seen through the microcosm of his bitter-sweet experiences in The Biz. Music for SURVIVORS, you might call it.
And the very last words go the man himself, “Even a toilet repair can bring world Peace, or peace off.”
Richie Rochdale’s verdict? A very SOLID 8 out of 10. Come back soon, chaps.