Do a band fronted by none other than one of the most infamous people in rock history really need much introduction or explanation? I'm gonna assume with his more recent celebrity that everyone knows who John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) is? I did actually consider not doing this post because the man behind this band has firstly become a complete parody of himself and, more recently, his misguided political outbursts have literally reversed everything he has proclaimed to stand for over his entire career. So before I start on the music let me say I am not a fan anymore and I 100% do not endorse anything to do with the man over the last decade or so his views are his and mines do not in anyway line up with that.
So with that out the way this post is here to deliver you 2 albums that have been part of my life since I was basically a child and as they have both been given an overhaul I wanted to share them with you and this also means you don't have to shell out what are, and becoming more so, your valuable monies on these expensive though worthwhile reissues.
After the Sex Pistols broke up in 1978 you could have forgiven John Lydon for continuing to profit from his fame by simply starting another punk band, seeing as how he'd barely been given a chance to enjoy it with his previous band. This was not the case. The history of the bands and the man has been heavily documented in books and online so I will give my take. John Lydon never subscribed to the music of punk, it would seem, from what I have read, that he had far deeper and richer tastes in music than merely the glam of the era that gave birth to punk. Lydon though obviously having an affectation for bands like The Stooges, New York Dolls, Bowie etc he had been immersed in other music that has in recent years been given some credit towards influencing the better of the punk bands to come out of the '76/'77 explosion. Lydon appeared on Tommy Vance's Capital Radio show in Summer 1977 having been invited on there to play a selection of his favourite records, The Sex Pistols management and record label may have seen this as an opportunity for Rotten to promote the Pistols legend by flexing his punk rock credentials He confounded listeners, management & fans alike by being firstly, eloquent and educated on his musical tastes and also by showing his musical influence to be nothing like anyone expected. Selecting records by Can, Reggae Artist Dr Alimantado and other dub and reggae records and expounding on how great and how much of an influence Peter Hammill (ex Van Der Graff Generator) was on him vocally.This basically set out his stall for what would come after the Pistols. Public Image Limited.
After the spectacular car crash that was the end of the Sex Pistols Lydon did not take much time to lick his wounds enlisting close friends and housemates John Wardle (better known as bottom end bass supremo Jah Wobble), Canadian Ex-Pat Jim Walker on Drums and the amazing Keith Levene on Guitar, who had originally been a founding member of The Clash.to put together new concept & band Public Image Limited. I want to mention now, that whilst nothing other than the combination of Wobble, Lydon & Levene could have made the 2 releases in this post, for me, it is Keith Levene's unique guitar work that makes these 2 albums as important to me as they are and has made their influences endure for 40 years, and also why with a revolving door of members, once Levene's contribution had been lessened and then he left the band in 1983/84 that for the most part I have little inerest in PiL beyond these 2 albums.
Originally proposed as an umbrella name for a multimedia experience Pil failed to deliver on that front fully, despite numerous attempts and a huge pot of money wasted, but what they did deliver was 2 albums of striking originality and absolutely crucial and influential music. First single "Public Image" had been originally floated by Lydon as a new song for the Sex Pistols if memory serves it was rejected by the band and I can see why this track whilst by far being the closest to "punk" PiL ever released is head and shoulders above punk in innovation with it's chiming guitars and deep dub bass and Lydon's previous sneering vocal now seemingly lifted a few registers higher and more acidic this was something new entirely. it may have been a taster for the forthcoming album but nothing could really prepare the listener for this debut album from PiL."Public Image (First Issue)" was absolutely confounding, firstly to the label and then to the public, expecting Sex Pistols Mk.2 and no doubt fuelled by the single expecting the "Chuck Berry on Speed" rock of the Pistols couldn't have been further off the mark. It was common practice in those days to open your debut album with the "hit" single, PiL defying convention chose to bury it as 5th track and on Side 2 of the album. Instead choosing to open the album with the the staggering 9 minute slow crawl of "Theme" Whilst I came to PiL much later I can't imagine what the average council estate punk must have thought in 1978, punk still a fresh mark on the musical landscape, dropping the needle on this album, this deep resonating bass heavy piece peppered with Levene's fantastic dissonant and chiming guitar and Lydon's shrieks and the refrain of repeatedly wailing "I wish I could DIIIIIE" this was, for the time, highly challenging music with no precedent and little to prepare the average listener. whilst the album isn't without more conventional moments "Theme" immediately let's you know that you can put all your expectations in the bin! Going from a spoken word version (Religion I) to the full band version (Religion II) from "Religion II" to "Attack"the middle 5 tracks of the album whilst being fresh and unlike anything you have ever heard before (at that time) definitely follow a more familiar "rock" structure however album closer "Fodderstompf" (a tune apparently improvised in the studio due to PiL not having enough material for an album) Bookends the album with "Theme" It's twisted disco Dub bass, sparse electro percussion, lack of guitar and Lydon doing his best Monty Python-esque shriek of "We Only Wanted To Be Loved" at just shy of 8 minutes is a challenge, but I personally love it, especially when they make no bones about this, Lydon intoning during the song "We wanted to finish the album with the minimum amount of effort which we are now doing very successfully" well as the man himself once said "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" I certainly don't . It's impossible to state how utterly leftfield this album was at the time I wasn't there but from what I have read it really did send shockwaves through the industry and was not universally loved by the conventional/casual listener but I can tell you that for me it deserves the critical acclaim it gets in retrospect and it's influence can still be heard now in the sounds of contemporary indie & alternative music many bands having made whole careers of retooling this sound for a new generation.
You'd think maybe with negligible sales and critics and label alike panning the debut album, Lydon may have thought of making something a little bit more acessible? Obviously not.What he did do was create one of the most challenging and influential albums not only of his career but of music as a whole.Coming along just shy of a year after their debut, 2nd album "Metal Box" was an unprecedented musical landmark in both it's sound and design, not only did it it's first run of , I had thought 10,000 copies but wikipedia says 60,000,come packaged in a metal film canister containing 3 x 12" 45 RPM singles,at no small cost to the band, having to sink £20,000 of their own money into the packaging, the 3 x 12" singles were separated inside by a thin pieces of paper and were not easy to remove from the canister, the idea being that this would cause the records to decay from removing and putting them back in the case some sort of statement on disposability? The reason for the original album to be pressed on 3 x 12" singles was to allow bigger grooves on the vinyl so as to allow for deeper, richer bass tones a tip picked up from the Dub records out of Jamaica that the band worshipped, this was an essential contribution to the sound of the album. Jah wobble's bass on this album for someone who was a comparative amateur underpins the entire album with it's deep dub inflections couple this with the genius guitar work and sound of Levene's guitar Lydon whilst publicly being the "star" of the band and also crucial to the sound for me takes a back seat to the music and whilst this is one of my all time favourite albums as it stands I could easily listen to it as an instrumental.
I am noticing that this post for a mere 2 albums is delving far too much into biography/music journo territory here I love both these albums particularly "Metal Box" so if I am allowed to continue waffling this will turn into an essay and I know for a fact this album has had it's musical bones picked clean over the 41 years since it's release and by far more qualified people than me so here is a link to wikipedia HERE if you don't know what this album sounds like then this should help.
So Onto my reasons for posting these easily available albums. Firstly I present them here in their "Deluxe" and "Super Deluxe" editions respectively both sets have been remastered for these reissues and in the case of "Metal Box" expanded massively.
"Public Image (First issue)" to be honest there's slim pickings it is good to hear this album cleaned up and remastered but as PiL had to improvise an 8 minute track in the studio just to bring the original album to a near acceptable length, welll..... The bonus second disc with this album contains the only real extra music of that era the B-side of the "Public Image" single " The Cowboy Song" for my money this, unlike "Fodderstompf" does fall into throwaway studio fucking around ,with no discernible groove and just being a sheer racket it really does not do PiL's innovation during this era any favours. However what is of interest on the 2nd disc is the hour long BBC Radio 1 interview with John Lydon which I personally really ernjoyed listening to and is an unusual bonus for a deluxe edition treatment. Originally a Japan only release this deluxe edition was later reissued in the US by Light In The Attic records so is now more easily available should you wish to seek one out
"Metal Box" (Super Deluxe Edition) is another thing all together ranging from £80 to more than twice that in price now it sickens me that this couldn't have been available at a more reasonable price and availability as it is one of my all time favourite albums and the bonuses here are fantastic. At 4 discs there is a lot of material and I'm not going to break it down too much but here's what you get...
(Note - I have broken the set it into 2 parts because it was just too big to put in one file at at 541 MB)
Disc 1 - The album remastered and sounding amazing
Disc 2 - ALL the singles, B- Sides their John Peel session "Death Disco" Live on "Top Of The Pops" along with live Tracks from the BBC Old Grey Whistle test show as well as rare comp track "Pied Piper"
Disc 3 - Contains Monitor Mixes, Rough mixes, Unreleased Instrumental jams, works in progress etc and is a fascinating glimpse into the albums "becoming"
Disc 4 - Live at The Factory (The Russell Club) Manchester a very high quality live set from a legendary performance at the Factory In July 1979
This is a definitive reissue for once and is one of a handful of these SUPER Deluxe editions that are worth having.
So that's that it's impossible to understand the importance of these 2 albums in 2020 whilst their influence and importance has been documented heavily I feel unless you were there at the time (I wasn't myself though i did beg my dad to buy me "Metal Box" in it's original tin cannister at a local record fair in 1983 which he begrudgingly did and I was far too young to "get it" and I absolutely hated it) you can't possibly understand how utterly groundbreaking this band were, Over a period of 2 years this band created some of the most important and challenging music of the latter half of the 20th century I can imagine many of you thinking that's a bit of an overstatement and I guess if you look at someone like Miles Davis it does look like hyperbole, However for someone so very deeply in the public spotlight as John Lydon was, at the time of these albums release, well you have to look at it from that perspective. PiL were no little obscurity that no one ever heard of, despite not being musically popular John Lydon had been headline news in the British media for a full 18 months to 2 years preceding PiL and despite the then "abrasive" nature of The Sex Pistols he was viewed as a "Pop Star" Pil Made at least 3 appearances on Top Of The Pops one of them with "Death Disco" if you have heard that song you will realise how desperate the world was to keep Lydon in the public arena to unleash Death Disco on the most sober and popular music show of the era .When you look at these 2 albums from that perspective well maybe you'll agree with me on their importance in musical history? Lydon may only be good for selling butter, entertaining reality show fans and right wing opinions and his "band" only good for entertaining 50 somethings trying to recapture their glory days of 40 years ago however for on brief shining period in the late 70's he was at the helm on one of the most innovative band sto ever record music for that reason alone I will continue to love the guy well that is at least the John Lydon of the 70's and 80's.
PUBLIC IMAGE (FIRST ISSUE) (DELUXE) - Mediafire
METAL BOX (SUPER DELUXE) PT. 1 - Mediafire
METAL BOX (SUPER DELUXE) PT. 2 - Mediafire