In celebration of their 40th anniversary Public Image Ltd (PiL) are releasing the box set retrospective of their career, The Public Image is Rotten (Songs From The Heart). Headed by former Sex Pistol frontman, John Lydon, the band was arguably the first art-punk-rock ensemble.
Some might wonder whether a band which doesn’t exactly make headlines is worthy of this massive retrospective, (five CDs and two DVDs in the CD version or six LPs in the vinyl version). Well the truth of the matter is PiL, no matter what their line up, has, and continue to be, one of the most innovative and interesting bands to rise from the ashes of London England’s 1970s punk scene.
While other bands and artists crashed and burned after their brief existence, the Lydon fronted Pil have continued to blaze trails for others to follow. Reflecting their frontman’s disdain for convention and refusal to allow anyone to define the style of music he performs, the band has successfully merged their punk ethos with musical genres ranging from disco to Irish folk.
Unfortunately the digital copy of the package sent out to reviewers didn’t include either of the two DVDs. (Disc one is a mix of promo videos and the band’s performance at the Talin Rock Festival in Estonia in 1988 while Disc two includes the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) archival footage of the band and their performance at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney Australia in 2013) However, the five CDs worth of music serve to remind anyone of the scope and breadth of the band’s material.
Disc one is a collection of singles spanning their entire career to date (1978-2015). For those not familiar with the PiL’s history its a great introduction to them as it includes such seminal hits as ‘Public Image’, ‘Death Disco’, ‘Rise’, ‘Flowers of Romance’, ‘This is Not a Love Song’, and the more recent ‘Double Trouble’.
However, this is a band where a simple greatest hit package really doesn’t begin to explore the scope of their contribution to popular music. So disc two’s collection of B-sides, rarities and radio sessions starts to give listeners deeper insights into PiL’s magnificent insanity. It includes songs like ‘Turkey Tits’, ‘Home is Where the Heart is’ and their appearances on both the famous John Peel Sessions BBC radio show and Mark Goodier Live Sessions on the same radio station.
The deeper you travel into the set the more you realize just how far and wide PiL has travelled musically. Who would have thought a Lydon fronted band had released dance tracks? Yet disc three is a collection of 12” mixes and dance versions of some of their most well known tunes. This just wasn’t something they did for a part of their career but something they continue to do to this day. For the songs on this disc range from early tracks like ‘Death Disco’ to ‘Shoom’ taken from their most recent release What the World Needs Now.
While the fifth CD is a wonderful live concert the band gave in 1989 at the Ritz in New York City, the fourth is a collection of remixes and tracks PiL hadn’t released until now. While not all of this material is of the same quality of songs released in one form or another previously it still provides one with a deeper understanding of the band’s creative evolution and process.
Of course you can’t talk about PiL without talking about Lydon. There is a spark of creative genius to his madness that was first witnessed when he channeled young people’s frustration and anger with their hopeless situation in Britain of the 1970s. With his mix of stream of conscience and cockney rhyming slang he’s managed to piss off all the right people for more than 40 years. (One British MP tried to have the Sex Pistols brought up on treason charges)
However, PiL is not just about pissing people off. Lydon still tries to expose hypocrisy and stupidity where ever he finds it, but there’s also been an introspective vein traveling through his lyrics that lifts it out of the three chords and anger genre that made him infamous. As a result PiL has continued to evolve their sound and style to match which makes them far more exciting than others who just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs From The Heart) from PiL is not a greatest hit package of some aging rockers past their prime. Its an in depth history of one of popular music’s most exciting and innovative bands.
(Originally posted at Blogcrtics.org as blogcritics.org/music-review-pil-public-image-rotten-public-image-ltd/">Music Review: PiL - The Public Image Is Rotten - 40 Years of PiL)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.