NME, 15th November, 1980

© 1980 NME

Paris Au Printemps


Parisian Wars

by Vivien Goldman

LYDON says he hates live albums. 'Paris Au Printemps' - PAP - the best of two nights recorded in Paris this spring, is consumer service for people that would have shelled out vast sums for low-fi bootlegs of the (currently) extinct species, PiL live. It was cut for the cost of two reels of tape, and edited down in two hours, with none of the overdubbed parts common in live LP's - "only some reverb to drown out the crowd booing," John says. He means it. The audience was hard-core Pistols fans, dinosaurs too busy tying their legs together to register the passing of three years. Hence the Gallic jeers, and John's cute asides: "Oh yes, very amusing... good, ain't we. SHUT UP! I'll walk off this stage if you keep spitting. DOG! " Cut to the classic punk image: artist / audience barriers crumbling thunderously, like demolished high-rises. Does it look quaint to you, now?

Parisian non-comprehension of PiL in the spring of 1980 seems daft, given the quality of the music. But then, PiL's instinctive suspicion (and frequent rejection) of the way things like music and its means of production generally toddle along means they're disturbing, hence often resented. PiL seem to feel most secure when they're poised over the live wire in the Underground, checking out the noise of the onrushing train for possible recording potential. The bedrock is solid drumming, deliberately straightforward, the least imaginative element. Beyond that, it's Wobble's steady bass, teetering on the brink of the nimble jazz runs that displeased Lydon and Levene. Excellent, actually. Beyond that, it's Levene's extraordinary relationship to music; an obsessive perfectionism that leads him to loathe sounds that do not extend the known boundaries of contemporary Western popular music.

He plays guitar and synthesiser. With the guitar, it sounds like a love/hate relationship. He's either trying to strangle it by the neck, or hack at it with a razor, or smother it in deadly flowers of romance. Levene's synthesiser work, exemplified on 'Careering' (here known as 'Precipitament') oddly parallels Jah Shaka's live dub at a sound system, though neither of them's aware of the fact. Only Shaka conjures those abstract waves and shapes of texture. The molten core means that music flows through the player like blood.

Lydon luxuriates in his words, method acting the themes: greed, ignorance, stupidity. The intelligence is fierce, the delivery 3-D. Part of the strength comes from confidence in his - our? - survival. Theme's tug o war words - "I wish I could die... / I will survive... now I understand... it doesn't matter no more..." - are a Miltonian epic battle with a giggle in the tail. The attack is as serious as the Pistols clones the Parisians were expecting, and even more threatening. "The likes of you and me is an embarrassment. " as Lydon observes in 'Chant.'

The biggest question raised by PAP's time capsule is - what will PiL be minus Wobble? The answer is seven or so tracks already recorded for a new album - Levene, Lydon, and Lee went through severe birth pangs/constipation before these innovatory rhythms took shape, but the results outweigh the inconvenience. Instead of Levene stepping into the bass slot, as I'd expected, PiL have done it again, broken another sound barrier. While half the world wants to sound like Chic, and the other half like Sly and Robbie - or like PiL, come to that - the Company's created a new kind of rhythm, a definite dance-able rhythm not based on bass and drums.

I'll leave you to ponder on the mind-boggling implications of to that statement. The meaning behind the moaning gets clearer all the time.


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