May 29, 2012 - PiL Official
This is not the Public Image Limited that you want. But really, how could it be? As much as we'd love to see what so many consider to be the "perfect" lineup of this ever-morphing band, John Lydon is too headstrong to bother with mending the bridges he burned with former members Keith Levene and Jah Wobble, the two central figures behind PiL's best work. So, for the first new collection of material in 20 years, what we are given is a group of artists struggling to prove there's still some fire left in the tank to an audience that just wants to hear "Memories" and "Rise" one more time. To that end, Lydon and his band—now featuring guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith, both members of PiL's ’90s run—aim to bridge the gap between the uncompromising racket of Metal Box and the radio-ready days of Happy? and 9.
Sound like an unholy mess? Truth be told, it's not that bad. There are points on the album that find some common ground. "Deeper Water" is a nicely loping bit of reggae-tinged pop with an atypically restrained vocal turn by Lydon. Edmonds scratches some amazing tones out of his guitar on "Reggie Song" and "Terra-Gate." Elsewhere, though, the band sound like a mish-mash of ideas that aren't given enough space or the necessary friction to help them cohere.
The biggest failure of This Is PiL, sadly, is the band's centerpiece: Lydon. As fine as he can be (see again "Deeper Water"), he sounds downright unhinged. Not in the puckish, sinister way that made PiL live albums so bracing, either—no, his work here sounds tossed off, and too often just plain off.
The title track is just an excuse for Lydon to repeat the album name over and over again in varying shades of volume and aggression. Lead single "One Drop" has him sounding like an aging schizophrenia sufferer recorded at a bus stop. ("I am John and I was born in London! I am no vulture. This is my culture.") But it only gets worse on "Lollipop Opera," which finds him rattling off some staccato bits of freeform slam poetry centered on the cadence of the song's title.
No, this isn't the Public Image Limited we want, but it is the one we deserve. As the concert market clamors for the lucrative return of bands deemed seminal by the blogosphere, we are going to get more albums like this by acts well past their sell by date trying to appeal to a new audience—and falling well short of the mark.