AND NOW A SPECIAL WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS:
“ FUCK THE MAN!”
Or, so you may be yelling that phrase from the top of your local chapel after one listen to Public Image Ltd.’s 1978 album, Public Image. As you may or may not know (depending if you’re cool or not), PiL (that’s at least what the cool kids say, or so I am told) was a post-punk project by John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) after the Sex Pistols splintered in 1978. The group also featured Keith Levene (a member of an early Clash lineup), drummer Jim Walker and bassist Jah Wobble (birth name: John Wordle.)
Well, now that we are done with the foreplay of this review, it is time to get to the real bread ‘n butter, baby! This first album by PiL should not, I repeat, SHOULD NOT, be a laughing matter -- well, except for the goofy closing song, “Fodderstompf,” a song that because of its high-pitched vocal reminds me of the Cure’s cover of “Foxey Lady,” off that band’s first album, Three Imaginary Boys. Yet, that is me naturally blowing an off-topic wad of 7 degrees of music -- like that game surrounding Kevin Bacon and shit.
Yet, I will make this clear about Public Image -- this album is fucking pissed off! From the death disco of the opener, "Theme," with its chilly chorus of, “And I wish I could die!” to its second-to-last song, “Attack,” with a middle section that is nearly chanted under an equal volume of noise as “You who sits on golden arses, while tinkering your cocktail glasses” gets you into PiL’s political fervor. These examples show that even if this proto-noise rock is sometimes heard with a sense of “been there done that” due to what the noise rock world has produced in this album’s wake more than 30 years after its initial release, it's still mightily timely.
“Attack” bespeaks about the bureaucrats who only see war through hearsay while living like rich, fat cats. In Lydon’s world those who disagree with him are simply ignorant to the world around them. The evil “You“ in this rant that is known to make life-and-death choices is probably just as connoted now in the George W. Bush era than it was back then in England. Especially for Americans like myself who believe that we seem to be living with an abundant amount of pure-capitalist interest in our government for a select few, instead of for the greater good of societal interest.
Whether it’s the harsh diatribe stance Lydon takes in “Religion I” and “Religion II“ or the anti-conformity and materialism that is sing-spoken on the title track, the political stance in the lyrics is accentuated by the guitar’s noisy bursts that slithers in and out of the speakers like a drunken snake. While Jah Wobble’s bass gives the sonics its immense danceable quality, such as on a song like “Annalisa,” the subtlety here provides a ying to the splintery and noisy guitar of Levine’s yang.
Yet, admittedly, if you were to base Wobble’s fame on this album (as many believe he’s one of the better bassists in history) I would have to admit that it’s really not until song six (“Low Life”) of the nine-song album that Wobble’s bass becomes more than a good backbone to the guitar racket. Yet, I will also admit that it is also at that point in the album that its quality is not as fine as the prior two-thirds. As “Low Life” may be a good, Sex Pistols-ish song that’s even catchy and danceable, sadly, it goes on a bit too long. "Attack," again, feels a bit too noisy for its own good, and "Fodderstompf" could end a lot earlier than it does…I mean, like really, a lot.
So, with “Fodderstompf’s” final few seconds of quirky gibberish, no one can confuse Public Image of appealing to the masses. This makes it quite a feat for back in 1978, and yes, especially even now in these dark and conservative times.