Rolling Stone, March 5, 1981

© 1981 Rolling Stone

Flowers of Romance

PiL on new track with Flowers of Romance album

by Malu Halasa

"Everyone in Public Image Ltd. is equal," says singer John Lydon. "We have equal say, equal merits; we each have our parts to play, blah, blah. Hopefully, we're not just crawling up our own assholes."

Lydon, his bright red hair strikingly set off by green polyester pants and an oversize checked jacket, is ensconced in the basement studio of Virgin Records' London town house with two of his three fellow PiLs: Keith Levene, the group's gaunt guitarist, and Jeanette Lee, a slight, brunette filmmaker whose PiL videos have yet to be shown. The fourth member' of the collective, Dave Crowe, handles its finances. They have just wrapped up their fourth album, Flowers of Romance, and Levene is at the mixing board with PiL's whiz-kid engineer, Nick Logan, who's setting things up for a playback. Lydon notices Logan diddling with the dials, and, lapsing for a moment into his best Johnny Rotten snarl, cracks, "You're just trying to draw attention to yourself. We're not impressed."

Suddenly, a savage scream erupts from the speakers: it's "Four Enclosed Walls," the album's opening track. As the tape winds on, it's apparent that this LP is highly percussive—an interesting development, since Public Image Ltd. has no full-time drummer. "We've had a lot of trouble with rock & roll merchants," Lydon explains. "They would only play get-down-and-boogie stuff. Some people found it hard to stretch their brains outside of that."

For Flowers of Romance, the group hired one of its former drummers, Martin Atkins, to play on a few tracks. Levene drummed on others, as did Lydon — who bashed away on whatever was at hand on such cuts as "Phenagen" and untuned the strings of a banjo while hitting them with a drumstick on the album's title tune.

F lowers of Romance (the title was the name of Sid Vicious' first band) will be released on February 25th, in America, unlike PiL's debut album and their recent live set, Paris au Printemps. And while PiL's dense, discordant music bears little resemblance to the Sex Pistols' roaring rock & roll, Lydon certainly seems to have the Pistols' late bassist in mind when he sings: "I can't depend on these so-called friends / It's a pity, you did depend / I'll take the pressure and start all over again."

Like much of the LP, "Flowers of Romance" sounds vaguely Middle Eastern, with violins weaving through the hypnotic rhythms. One song, "Hymie Hyme," even features a tubular percussion instrument from Bali. "But the tribal strains, Eastern or whatever, aren't done on purpose," Levene points out. "AII it amounts to is that we don't like any music at the moment. The only records you'll catch us listening to are some Renaissance suites. We're interested in different sounds and in electronics—not in terms of wah-wah, but ambient sounds."

"Well," says Lydon, summing up this latest chapter in the PiL saga, "it ain't rock & roll, that's for sure."


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