Public Image Ltd: Ten of the Best

Posted: July 20, 2018 in New Music and New Discoveries

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/an-essential-guide-to-public-image-ltd-in-10-records/

For a couple of years now Vinyl Factory has been allowing me to come up with brief spotlights on ten releases by an artist – always an enjoyable experience siphoning down to a certain core and bound to cause disagreement given my ten worthies very likely don’t mesh with many other people’s own lists. But that’s the fun of any public opinion, it invites others to say “no,” or to suggest alternatives. The funniest two comments I’ve received? Number one was on a Nine Inch Nails focused piece where someone wrote that not including Pretty Hate Machine or Still was a “tragic mistake which discredits the whole of your so called ‘introduction to NIN'” (answer: I love Still but had to leave something out while Pretty Hate Machine just isn’t on my list of favourite NIN releases at all.) The other was on a piece focused on Coil where, having listed all the things they would have preferred I include the comment said “It seems like some of these choices were poorly made – a lot of compilation albums that all have ‘Amethyst Deceivers’ on them.” To be fair, I agreed that remakes of Amethyst Deceivers cropped up probably way too much in the latter years of Coil – but trying to choose Coil releases is like deciding which diamond is most sparkly.

My view is always I refuse to write about an artist I don’t respect or enjoy (the two don’t have to coexist – I respect Radiohead but only enjoy them in patches. I don’t want to spend my limited time focusing on anything that doesn’t enthrall me – there are enough such distractions in the world.

So this month I decided to swallow the whole of Public Image Ltd’s discography whole, with a couple of John Lydon sidebars added on for good measure.

The greatest enjoyment I took from it? Comparing Commercial Zone to This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get! The original piece was two, maybe three times as long – there was just so much to say about the comparison. For a start, Commercial Zone gets that extra ‘gloss’ that sometimes adheres to anything that can be described as lost, secret, unofficial – anything with that outlaw edge. I wanted to try to disregard that and consider how it really stands up. Truth is it’s a mixed bag: some of the songs gain an eerie and atmospheric vibe in early demo form – if you like horror/sci fi movie soundtracks, it’s great. Other tracks though are just blatant noodling and tossed off time-filling. Thing is, that’d be a pretty balanced description of the official album too: so it just becomes a Pepsi/Coke question – depends on your tastes because neither is significantly above the other.

The least enjoyable moment isn’t visible in the final post: having to listen through Happy? (1987), 9 (1989) and That What Is Not (1992) in search of something good to say about them. It killed me. I respect and enjoy John Lydon’s work deeply: most artists are hard pressed to wind up with one truly significant band let alone two; to make one album that people might claim as an all-time favourite let alone three or four (depending on your take on Flowers Of Romance.) There’s something about that late eighties-early nineties British guitar pop tone that never hooked me even as a cheery nine or ten year old. The jaggly drums, the over-production, the gleaming plastic vibe of so much of that time. I just can’t fathom what Lydon was singing about by then: the mansion liberal substituting CNN for any contact with life – harsh but I see little evidence on those albums of it being unfair. Still! To digest them in detail and in full was something I’d meant to do for ages. Two whole weeks working those albums round and round, giving them all the energy I could, then realising it was hurting to write about one of them let alone all three.

The most obvious moment, well, sheer truth, I love the first three PiL albums: such a distance travelled, so many different terrains explored, words and sounds that work, humour and seriousness in equal measure – glorious. And the two comeback reecords have been very pleasing.

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