Today, our "Sonic Reducer" series continues. In the series, Punknews writers compress a band, genre, theme, or time period into a playlist that would fit on a single CD. Along with the playlist, you'll get either an overview of the topic, such as a band introduction, or a story about how the music in the playlist moved or changed the writer. This series is intended to be educational, giving you the listener an overview of a certain scene, as well as rockin'.
Today, we focus on Public Image Limited. Editor Adam Eisenberg gives an overview of the band and picks some choice nuggets. You can hear his playlist below and read his thoughts on the band. Also, check out Adam E's review of What The World Needs Now.
Public Image Limited's catalog is nothing if not varied. Over the course of ten official studio releases, an aborted LP and other bits and pieces, the band evolved from one that pioneered an angry and inventive post-punk sound to one that served as a canvas for John Lydon's wide-ranging musical experiments, eventually employing a range of instruments and touching on a range of styles including synth pop, dub, '80s rock and even grunge.
While the names and faces changed regularly, Lydon always surrounded himself with competent and creative musicians, from the early days with Keith Levene and Jah Wobble to the mid-career period in which Lydon relied on studio help from the likes of Steve Vai, Ginger Baker and Bill Laswell, to the band's current incarnation, which includes guitarist Lu Edmunds, who had a previous stint in PiL and also was a member of The Damned, Bruce Smith, who also previously played in PiL as well as The Slits, and bassist Scott Firth, who previously performed with Steve Winwood and Elvis Costello, among others.
Attempting to wade through the volume of music produced by the band in 30+ years is not an easy task. One can't certainly ignore the influence of PiL's first few albums on rock music, nor can one overlook the band's mid-career output, which, while indulgent in some respects also produced a number of worthy, one-of-a-kind gems, nor would it be wise to discount the band's recent return, which has produced some of the best, most passionate work of Lydon's career. Also worth considering in all this is the role of Commercial Zone, the half-finished, never-officially-released 1984 LP that marked the final collaborations between Lydon and Levene, before their relationship deteriorated to the point that Levene left the group. That record actually includes an alternative version of one of the band's biggest hits, "(This Is Not A) Love Song," that strips away the brassy facade of the version that's more familiar to most and turns it into an undulating post-punk jam.
With all that said, don't consider this the definitive Public Image Ltd. playlist, nor a playlist of the band's greatest hits. It's simply a tasting menu of the many flavors the band has served up through the years. -Adam Eisenberg
Bonus track: Since Commercial Zone never received a proper release, it's unavailable on Spotify or other streaming services. However, the band did actually shoot a promo video for that album's version of "(The Is Not A) Love Song" prior the project being scrapped. You can watch it below.