Review by Dom Tyer
Roll up roll up, the circus is once again in town. Their faces fill the newspapers here in England with rent-a-gob takes on all the issues of the day for yet another regal jubilee year. But enough about the monarchy, because punk rock royalty the Sex Pistols have a new
Twenty-track album The Original Recordings arrives just ahead of Danny Boyle's Pistol mini-series, which makes its debut on Tuesday 31 May on Hulu, FX and Disney (you might just have heard something about it over the last year or so). Obviously, the Sex Pistols released a peerless debut album that influenced – directly or indirectly – pretty much everyone who came after them in the punk world. They then quickly started falling apart, thanks in no small part to massive institutional pressure, street thug attacks and media frenzy. You can argue whether 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is the best punk album of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most
But with only one studio album to their credit, you might have thought it would be difficult to keep issuing compilations, though it turns out there’s plenty of ways to flog that dead horse. Over the years these have included collections like as 1992’s Kiss This, 2002’s
Jubilee, coinciding with the Queen’s ruby and golden jubilees.
So, what do you get to soundtrack this year’s platinum jubilee? The Original Recordings uses the 2012 remastered versions – if Spotify is to be believed – and has three-quarters of Never Mind the Bollocks, with "Submission", "EMI" and "Liar" having been excised, plus the b-sides "Satellite", "I Wanna Be Me" and "Did You No Wrong". Along the way there are several different song choices from Kiss This, which also boasted 20 tracks. This time around there’s the album version of "Silly Thing", on which Steve Jones and Paul Cook share vocal duties. It’s slighter recording than the single version that graced Kiss This, and on which Jones only handled the vocals. There’s also Jones’ song "Lonely Boy" – which gave its name to his autobiography, which in turn formed the basis of the Pistol mini-series.
Both "Silly Thing" and "Lonely Boy" are very good songs. Neither is a very good Sex Pistols song, but then it’s hard to conceive of a Sex Pistols song that doesn’t have John Lydon singing – you certainly won’t convince me that any of the tracks that their tragic second
bassist Sid Vicious sang before his untimely death stand up to those with Jones or Cook singing, let along those with Lydon’s brilliantly caustic wail. "Lonely Boy", with its spoken word break, also fits neatly with Jones’ love of 60s pop, of which there are plenty of other examples on The Original Recordings. The album has pop covers of "(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone" – best known as a hit for The Monkees – and "Substitute" by The Who. Plus, though less successfully, Sid-sung versions of Eddie Cochran’s "Somethin Else" and "C’Mon Everybody".
There’s also the Pistols’ eviscerated version of "No Fun", in which The Stooges’ original is turned inside out and remoulded into an early indication of Lydon’s work with his post- Pistols outfit P.I.L. And, but of course, Sid Vicious’ "My Way" from The Great Rock & Roll Swindle soundtrack, awkwardly straddling the line between awful and awesome.
But really, what is there left to say about the Sex Pistols? Their best songs are solid gold punk action – and any album that kicks off with thundering anthems like "Pretty Vacant" and "God Save the Queen" sets itself a very high bar to follow. The visceral bloody, fucking mess of "Bodies" retains its shock value 45 years on, while "Anarchy in the UK" and "Holidays in the Sun" stick two fingers up to society.
That said, what’s the point of having three-quarters of Never Mind the Bollocks in this set? Better to have included more alternate or live versions of some of those tracks to make this a more compelling compilation. As it stands, the switch from the rollicking wall of guitars put on Never Mind the Bollocks to b-sides that sound, by comparison, like they were recorded in a tin can, can be a bit jarring, and quality control is variable on the non-Lydon tracks.
But that’s what a collection like this comes down to – arguing about what’s included or left off. Ultimately, they made one perfect punk album, which if it sounds like a mainstream listen now it’s because of the thousands and thousands of bands they inspired, including those that took punk into harder, faster, and more aggressive or angular directions. So, buy this if you want a complete picture of the band (without having to venture all the way into the weirdness of The Great Rock & Roll Swindle), but stick with Never Mind the Bollocks if you want the real deal.
Review by Dom Tyer