Stereo Review, August, 1980

Transcribed by Dave K

© 1980 Stereo

Public Image Ltd:
Second Edition

Island 2WX 3288 two discs $13.98,
(8 track) 2WX 3288 $13.98,
(cassette) 2W5 3288 $13.98

Performance: Forbidding
Recording: Variable

Second Edition

Public Image Ltd. (vocals and instrumentals). "Swan Lake,"; "Bad Baby"; "Careering,"; "Chant,"; "Poptones,"; "No Birds,"; and four others.

Second Edition is a budget version (the English pressing, known as The Metal Box, was somewhat more elaborately and expensively packaged) of the latest musings by the band fronted by Mr. John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten. I can't in good conscience recommend it to the merely curious, even at normal prices. Most of the songs are perilously close to rants (what Mick Jones of the Clash calls "nagging wife" music), and the backing tracks, by turns stark, strident, and dissonant, are so uncompromisingly, deliberately ugly that they suggest the death throes of a scrap-metal foundry. Lydon intones the lyrics, which are among the most appalling outpourings of inchoate rage in recent memory, in a kind of proletarian Sprechstimme that summons up everything from the unpleasant portentiousness of middle-period Jim Morrison to what sounds like the deranged Kaddish of a punk rabbi. This is not, in short, exactly a party record.

But—and admittedly this is a big but—unless I am totally mistaken there is something remarkable going on here anyway, at least in parts of it. The problem is that it's difficult for an American to get a fix on the convention PiL seems to be attempting to shatter; the wilder dub and reggae stuff that gets a hearing in England, of which most of this stuff appears to be a take-off, is only a rumor in the States, while for English kids it's almost accessible. That allowed, if you can get past the tedium of long passages, what you'll discover here, I think, is an attempt to inject actual feeling into the most forbidding of structures, as well as some truly radical conceptions about the role of the bass player and rhythm section. It strikes me as an experiment that leads down a blind alley, and a lot of it is the kind of psychedelic bushwah West Coast groups were grinding out in the middle Sixties, but you've got to give the little bugger his due for trying to bring it off. The joke, of course, well be on me if fifteen years from now everything on the radio sounds like this. But it wouldn't surprise me too much.


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