Down Beat, May, 1984
Transcribed by M
© 1984 Down Beat
Is Not A Love Song
& Live in Tokyo
by Jim Brinsfield
After three years of virtual inactivity while ensconced communally in a huge loft in NYC, Public Image offers these two records, one a 12-inch 45 rpm, the other a superbly recorded live concert in Tokyo. Both are full of puzzling twists in the characteristic musical direction of P.i.L., and the focus and intent seem to be the results of an aesthetic cabin fever and an attempt to get their careers back on track more than sheerly musical inspiration.
No doubt that they were haunted by their own earlier successes, placing them at the helm of the trans-avant garde bands of the '80s, with a rhythm section that hit upon the power of funk to give the music an earthy rock bottomthe perfect foundation for John Lydon's non-stop lyrics and Keith Levene's layers of synthesized guitar treatments. Levene's uncanny manipulations of the guitar's sonic possibilities forced listeners to cease waiting for anything approaching a conventional rock guitarinstead one experienced a wash of anguished electricity slithering in and out of P.i.L.'s heterodoxical stance. In a sense, Lydon's inability to edit himself was the locus of Levene's most significant contribution: his solos, in effect, stretched the entire length of the songs, and the resolution their tension was often in the last few seconds of each piece.
Shortly after they released their studio double album LP Second Edition (reviewed db, 7/80) Jah Wobble and his rubbery bass lines were given walking papers. David Crowe, never acknowledged as a full-fledged member, was replaced by Martin Atkins' pan-African drumming, and Lydon and Levene began composing pseudo-Arabic melodies with inter-modal harmonies. The result, Flowers Of Romance, was a musical and critical success but it's intellectualism and umber colorations left P.i.L.'s audience examining their own musical inclinations. Today, a plethora of bands white and black fuse funk and rock, plying a vein that P.i.L. first mined. This approach continues to be the conceptual motherlode of the decade.
After leaving England for the United States, the band found themselves in a financial squeeze, unable to afford studio costs without an advance from their record company. For their part, Virgin/Warner Bros. were hesitant to release any loot unless P.i.L. had finished tapes ready. Without a manager, a secure record contract, and armed with a distrust of the record business, Lydon & Co. began pointing suspicious fingers at one another for the situation they were in. Which brings us to the music at hand.
In early 1983 the band finally entered a N.Y. studio to cut a 12-inch disc centered around a single tune, "This Is Not A Love Song"perhaps the closest thing to straight rock P.i.L. has ever recorded. Lydon sings a verse, then Levene plays a short chorus, back and forth trading leads, each time testing the emotional edges of their parts. The band is in top form, at ease in turning the simplest format into a series of searing climaxes that grow to an aching intensity. Also recorded was "Blue Water"for P.i.L. the usual unusual, a cryptic dirge of vague suicidal inclinations. It was during the remixing that Lydon was offered a 10-stop tour of Japansans Levene. Lydon met the promoter of the tour in L.A., who then introduced him to a group of session musicians who had the Sex Pistols and P.i.L. repertoire down pat. Following rehearsals, Lydon, Atkins, and the newcomers became the newly reconstructed Public Image and began appearing in L.A. venues. Lydon, returning to the persona of carrot-topped Johnny Rotten, baited his audiences with taunts and snarls. The band, with their blow-dried hair and matching outfits, hardly epitomized anything other than a lounge outfit from New Jerseywhich in an earlier time they were.
Off to Japan went this unseemly aggregation. To say that the vinyl spawn of this visit is sad is an understatement. The material on these concert recordings covers the gamut of P.i.L.'s history, focusing upon the earlier recordings. Lydon goes through the set in the most perfunctory manner. Atkins plays as if he's unfamiliar with his own tempos and cues, and the bandwhat they heythey aren't bad ... though they aren't convincing. But at the very end, the last song, "Religion," something happens to get everyone up, and this version is more than the equal of its original. John sings in a full voice with a venom that matches the heretical lyrics, enveloped in an aural intensity found nowhere else on the four sides.
As a postscript, I should add that Levene is readying an album of his own. And, in spite of this poor showing, one cannot rule out the potential of anything John Lydon becomes involved in.
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