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This Is PiL Mick Middles , May 15th, 2012 10:40

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This is PIL... indeed. This is belligerent from the outset, from the title even; a wrestling back of the spotlight and a testy swipe at any opposing PiLs that might be regrouping and performing small club gigs in the north of England. Of course, I refer to the recent Wobble / Levene outings that saw the duo reunited for dubbed up run-throughs of Metal Box, concluding with steely renditions of 'Public Image'. At one such affair – at Manchester's Ruby lounge – a singular irony began to dawn on me. For those die-hard PiL fans of post punk vintage, it was seen as a return to the ferocious adventuring of 1979. Such fans are a precious gang indeed, often agreeing with Jah Wobble's rather unkind comment to the effect that Lydon "...hasn't produced credible music since the 1986 outing, Album."

But the irony now seems glaringly obvious. In cold terms, it is Wobble and Levene who appear to be treading those safe waters of old. By contrast, and thrillingly so, This Is PiL sees a shape-shifting band that has now evolved into a mischievous and settled four-piece. A band that includes the stalwart Lu Edmonds – blisteringly experimental here – once locked in the rockist embrace of The Damned, Bruce Smith from The Pop Group and The Slits and Scott Firth, who has spent time adding bass to The Spice Girls. This is now the year deep into intensive rehearsal. It may not be the PiL of your dreams, but it is, most defiantly, PiL. Deal with it.

Mercifully, and perhaps against the odds, this is a 63 minute chunk of music that wavers marvellously from the irresistible, the effortlessly accessible to the downright weird. Surely, that is what one might wish for? The title track sets the tone. A wild howl topping a dub bass that dips and growls like the 'geezer' himself. There is no further message here. Lydon at 56 still manages to breathe inspiring fire into the most simplistic of chants. That could be Johnny at his ferocious best. However, on later tracks he is to be replaced by a more amiable if gloriously cheeky beast whose appears to be glancing back to days of shenanigans in Finsbury Park. For this is, without doubt, an album haunted by the shadows of London, be it in pre-Olympian countdown or back in the litter-strewn days of 70s monochrome.

It's a lyrical vision that can be seen as a reflection of Damon Albarn's The Good the Bad and the Queen; an evocative place, alive with the emotion of history. Perhaps Mr Lydon had been feeling just a mite home-sick as he fried beneath the relentless sun and glitz of Venice Beach?

That said, track three, 'Deeper Water' is nothing of the sort. Inspired by a boating trip he undertook with wife Nora off the Californian coast, the song, powered by a mighty Lu riff, the song sees Lydon strangely using the ocean as a metaphor for personal problems – a deep and beautiful place teaming with obvious dangers. It could have been the result of too much sun and beer and lyrical ambition. However pretentious that might sound, it's married to some of the most infectious music in PiL's rich and awkward history.

That aside, it's very much a London record. 'I Must Be Dreaming' is awash with, perhaps, a rather unlikely and wistful nostalgia, Gifted a psychedelic folksy backdrop, Lydon laments, "I miss the roses, cotton dresses skipping across the lawn, happy days when football was not a yawn..."

While this might seem a long way from 'Bodies', it is also rooted in a Finsbury Park now misted by the passing of time. Similar, perhaps, is Lydon's homage to a local character in the pop-tone heavy 'Reggie's Song', where the apparently old rascal is described as "... a ladies man." Not for the first time on this album, the hankering seems to be for the faded glamour of the kind of barefoot London that gave rise to The Sex Pistols (Dickensian oiks to a lad) and the Wobble/Levene axis of PiL, where their second-hand suited vision of anti-glam just couldn't put a foot wrong. This is the link which makes This Is PiL such an unexpected triumph. Again, the irony is screaming, and the link with Metal Box seems more powerful than any reflections of the age of Album and 'Rise'.

Perhaps the reason for this lies in the simple camaraderie of a band that has dug themselves fully into a groove. That alone would be enough to provide a rebirth here: new momentum, perhaps, that should carry Lydon fully into a credible return, regardless of diversions into butter peddling.

There is more, too. Lydon's ever-inspiring love of de-dub postulates continually throughout the album – it's such a perfect return, given the rather shallow rock diversions that PiL have traversed along the way. 'This Is PIL', 'One Drop' and 'Reggie Song' are enough to complete this most welcome of ghosts.

Most importantly, this is an album that finally... finally... might just release Lydon from the grip of those Metal Box nostalgics. A monkey released from the hunched shoulder. You can reach out and touch that lovely irony. Let go of the albatross or, John Lydon succinctly puts it, "Lucky You".

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May 16, 2012 7:38am

Sorry, I still can't stop thinking about that butter advert.

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May 16, 2012 11:09am

In reply to :

too bad for you then

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May 16, 2012 11:32am

Only heard a couple of tracks off the One Drop EP so far - very pleasantly surprised. Wobble is correct, Lydon's PiL hasn't recoded anything of worth since Album - until now that is......

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May 16, 2012 5:10pm

This is one horrible album. I listened to it a few days ago and hope to never repeat that experience. While there are some good ideas here and there it ultimately familiar stuff.

There's no doubt that PiL has a tight, skilled set of musicians, but they're undercut by two fatal flaws. First, they have a singer apparently so convinced of his own importance that there's no careful editing, no refinement. I'd be willing to bet that the vocals on this album are all first takes.

Worse, Lydon's singing, once nuanced and skillfully contorted, has devolved to where he repeats a handful of vocal mannerisms in such abundance that he sounds like a bad impersonation of himself. Basically, he's stopped trying.

Second, even if you stripped the vocals from the songs you're still left with music that sounds like what people in the '80s imagined progressive rock should sound like.

Not only doesn't this record break any new ground or attempt anything ambitious, it doesn't even sound contemporary. For all of the skill among the musicians they're still stuck in the past, looking forward from 30 years ago.

Finally, if you want to call out Wobble on his comments don't go by the MBiD events. He's made it clear these are mainly a chance to kick back and enjoy the music he and Levene wrote. Judge him by his recent albums, or judge him and Levene by their EP or their upcoming album. He shows a far greater willingness to explore than Lydon and Co.

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May 16, 2012 9:38pm

And the cassette played...

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May 16, 2012 9:53pm

...Pop Toads...

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May 16, 2012 11:16pm

Bad news, Mick: Wobble and Levene are in the studio recording new material. Sorry, dude. Well, you can cross your fingers and hope it sucks, I suppose.

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May 17, 2012 2:55pm

...well I guess once they start playing the whole album live they won't need to touch the Metal Box/First Issue material any longer if they don't want to. This'll leave MBiD to carry on with the PiL/UB40 style mashups they seem so fond of. I suppose what we have to remember is that it is JL that has resurrected PiL and given MBiD the opportunity to do some gigs and pretend they are a working band and not simply cashing in on someone else's hard work. If it had been the other way around I think that all these John Lydon vs. Wobble/Levene arguments would have some validity.

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May 17, 2012 9:44pm

In reply to realtaichi:

"I suppose what we have to remember is that it is JL that has resurrected PiL and given MBiD the opportunity to do some gigs and pretend they are a working band and not simply cashing in on someone else's hard work."

MBiD was in the planning well over a year ago, roughly when JL was taking his own PiL cover band on a Metal Box tour, basically cashing in on someone else's hard work since it was Wobble and Levene who wrote the songs and invented the sound of the first 2 PiL albums and established PiL's musical stature. Had Lydon teamed up with lesser artists no one would give a rat's ass about PiL today.

That's not to say Lydon didn't make a valuable contribution, but the highs and lows of PiL have always been based on the actual musicians in the band, not because of any master guidance from some singular genius.

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May 18, 2012 7:18am

In reply to James:

...actually I think 'that what is not' is the best PiL album of all time, all of PiL's albums have good bits and bad bits, but 'that what is not' is just mental from start to finish; both conceptually and musically. The Lydon/Levene/Wobble master stroke was Poptones for me, that guitar/bass/voice combo is mesmerizing. But, there was a lot of dirge on those records too; perhaps intentionally so. I don't like to listen to them now, for me they haven't stood the test of time. Actually I more or less lost track of PiL in the 80s as I got bored with them post Metal Box and only re-visited there stuff via YouTube in recent years. A lot of the work that John Lydon did with John McGeoch et al is brilliant pop and very listenable even today; despite the 80s rock production and visuals. We also have to remember that the Sex Pistols were basically a pop band with attitude and for me that 'tradition' was carried on more accurately in the Lydon/McGeoch/Dias trio. As for the new album I have no idea, I haven't heard it yet. I guess it'll be the same for me, it'll have good bits and bad bits. The current version of PiL is basically a working band that probably best works live; that kind of energy is always difficult to capture on any record.

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Fat Latch
May 28, 2012 11:32am

i'm sorry but 'One Drop' is such awful fucking bilge that i'm really not interested in hearing the LP, if this is an example of a 'good track' from it...i'd agree with Wob's opinion (bar 'Open Up', which 'One Drop' seems to be an incredibly pale imitiation of...)

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May 28, 2012 12:28pm

Finally got chance to listen to this yesterday, admittedly after being awake for 42 hours due to an overnight cinema marathon, so my judgement may have been impaired by that and the roaring sun.

I was set up to be disappointed after all the good word its getting (there's always that chance when press-world gets a following wind on a new album, this place included) but really rather enjoyed it. Realised half way through that the things I was enjoying most were Lydon's lyrics and the fact they aren't afraid to find a good simple groove and lock into it. I didn't see that combination coming. For all the bluff and bluster they know what catches the ear and are happy to drop it in amongst the belligerence.

If we do get a balmy summer here this year then this could be a cracking soundtrack to it. I can't think of anything

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H A Mother
Jul 2, 2012 10:55pm

Is Lydon wearing a pinstriped romper suit in that video? Subversive genius!

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Jan 20, 2013 8:56am

still can't stop thinking about that butter adve staunton chess sets

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