Sounds, December 1978
© 1978 Sounds
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD:
(Virgin V2114) **
by PETE SILVERTON
And the boy looked at Johnny.
And he shouted: "Look, ma, the Emperor's got no clothes."
Scene One; Christmas Day. Unbounded joy as the wrapping paper is ripped apart to reveal this Yuletide's model, the Public Image album. Straight on to the deck with it and it's great, of course. Different, mind you. Kind of spacy, lots of weird noises and no rallying anthemic sneers like on last year's gift 'Never Mind The Bollocks'. But it's still great, of course just different and anyway it's his right as an artist to try new . Things
Scene Two; Boxing Day. Ten o'clock at night and 'Public Image' still hasn't been played yet this day. Oops, nearly forgot, put it on quick. Great, innit? Different though. Experimental you could call it, I suppose. But he's an artist, isn't he, so why should he keep on doing all those great snarling slices of venom. Why should he have to spit at the world and dance at the same time? Why shouldn't he just spit?
Scene three; First shopping day after Christmas. Three days since the last time 'Public Image' got played. So on it goes. And just to make a comparison, y'understand, a quick flit through 'Bollocks'.
Scene Four; Second shopping day after Christmas. 'Public Image' still hasn't made it back on to the turntable. 'Bollocks' has stuck there like glue. Wondering about what other new records are out, down to Cheapo Cheapo with 'Public Image' and they won't buy it off you. The racks are already bulging with it and they can't sell it even at the knockdown price of £1.25. Sorry, sucker, you lost again.
And, strangely enough, I don't even think Johnny Rotten and his cohorts were intending to deliberately cheat you of you four and a half quid when they put together this arrogantly thin, shallowly free attempt at breaking free of Rotten's past. I even sympathise with Rotten - to a point. He was in an almost impossible situation. Too many people seemed to have been under the impression that when Christ returned, he'd emerge as a spiky haired kid from Finsbury Park with bad teeth who wouldn't admit to his liking for Yeats. It goes without saying that if Public Image Ltd had been a copy of the Pistols they would inevitably have been a pale, lifeless copy without the healthy mutual hatred of the original five musketeers (John, Steve, Paul, Glen and Malcolm).
And anyway John has always realised that he's a rilly talented artist and he's above all that common muck like writing rock and roll songs He's a manchild . Who feels he's had bestowed upon him the gift of the Gods - deep insight.
Or then again maybe he doesn't. Maybe he's just all grown up and very lost with no clear idea where to go. Confused just like Stephen Dedalus, the Irish 'artist' hero of Ulysses. And that's no mere intellectual reference. In the first chapter of 'Ulysses' Buck Mulligan says to, Dedalus: 'The trouble with you Dedalus is that you're a dyed-in-the-wool Jesuit. Only it got injected back to front."
And that applies just as well to Rotten. Who else but a lapsed Catholic (just like junkies, there ain't no such thing as an ex Catholic) would feel moved to launch a venomous attack on such a hollow target as religion. So moved in fact that it's blinded him to the pitiful immaturity of his Iyrics. E. J. Thribb has nothing on this guy. In one foul swoop, Rotten has established himself as the undisputed king of Sixth Form Poetry. Conveniently ignoring rhyme pattern, syntax and sense, on the first acapella version of 'Religion', he deposits silly, ill-considered thoughts like "A bitch spelt backwards is dog... God " (adding the last word as an after-thought when he realises bitch spelt backwards is hctib) or "Bible full of libels. This is religion. The apostles were eleven. Now there's a sod in heaven ". lf it weren't for the fact that a lot of people will take his childish outburst seriously it wouldn't even be worth considering. As it is. it's worth emphasising that those are some of the more evocative lines in the poem. And, incidentally he intones it in a voice like the one I remember a priest using when he was trying to get it through that week's lesson with all possible haste, least possible sense or emotion. A priest by any other name....
....is an idol with a head of clay? Maybe, I don't know. All I know is that everybody I played this to thought it so awful that I almost became convinced we were all missing out on its hidden strength - not everybody can be that right. So I played it again and again, drawing at best a perverted pleasure from seeing people squirm as I approached the deck to plunge into its sparse musical offerings. A producer friend said it sounded like a band gone into the studio for the first time and running riot with all the effects - flanges, delays, echo units, boxes that go bonk in the night. I can only assume they were working on the monkeys with typewriters theory - sooner or later one of them will write Beethoven's Tenth Symphony. Unfortunately that seems to take a lot longer than the amount of time they allotted themselves in the studio.
If you've got the single, you're the proud possessor of the only wholly worthwhile track on the album. Reputedly the next single 'Low Life' could possibly have succeeded in its attack with a healthy dose of structure. Otherwise it's just morbid directionless sounds with Rotten's poetry running just behind it. Mostly the humour is double-edged. You find yourself laughing at the idea that they find themselves witty. On 'Fodderstompf' "We're now attempting to finish this album with the minimum effort possible and succeeding" or "I'll now play with this fire extinguisher " squirt, squirt noises. Hey you guys really crack me up, you should consider writing the next series of 'Mind Your Language'. Only time I was honestly amused was when Rotten snaps out 'Terminal Boredom' at the end of 'Theme'.
Even then, it's clear he thinks he's getting first shot. "This is what you'll say so I'll say it first. " For once, an artist has obviously got the measure of his own work.
Nice cover though.
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)