One of my favorite bands, that I have written about from time to time, is Public Image Ltd. Fronted by John Lydon, former Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame, they have continuously pushed the boundaries of music. If you listen to their catalog, it simply doesn’t sound like anyone else’s, even if certain songs, or parts of songs, are grounded in particular genres. Punk, dub, world music, rock, and electronic music all play a role at various time periods in the bands history. I shouldn’t really call it a band. Although the project started as a band and has been a functioning band recently, the only consistent member has been Lydon.
Tonight I have been watching the documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. The documentary is about drummer Ginger Baker. Baker is most famous for Cream and Blind Faith, though he has a long and varied career. It made me think of his work with Public Image Ltd.
One of the most famous Public Image Image Ltd. albums is Album, or Compact Disc or Cassette, depending on the format at the time of its release. (Though it is now predominately known by the first title.) It’s a truly strange release that brings together not only Lydon and Baker, but also virtuoso guitar player Steve Vai, among others. That is not exactly a trio of musicians that you imagine having something in common, other than the fact that they are all people that have tried to push the boundaries of music in one way or another.
If I’m honest, this is not my favorite record of theirs, though it definitely has its merits. On several of the tracks producer Bill Laswell pushes them towards heavy metal, though it’s not typical metal by any means. On these tracks the musicianship and Lydon’s one of a kind personality shine, but music itself isn’t as adventurous as a lot of the PIL catalog. My favorite two tracks are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The most famous track is the single Rise, which has an African music element, but also incorporates Vai’s unique guitar tone and brief moments of darkness that contrast the major key African elements. The last track is great as well, and also perhaps the strangest. The song Ease starts out with keyboards and a didgeridoo, followed by the bulk of the song, which has a majestic rock quality, almost Middle Eastern in sound. The song closes with an epic solo by Vai, the likes of which is not heard throughout most of the PIL discography. I’m not even sure if the song is any good, but it is definitely great. Something that starts with a didgeridoo, then features Lydon singing over almost a Led Zeppelinesque middle passage, and closes out with a solo by Vai, is not like anything else I have ever heard.
Although there are other PIL records I prefer, the sheer fact that Lydon was so willing to reach out into new territory time and time again is inspiring. And even if I would advise one to start elsewhere with their catalog, I think this one should be added to your collection at some point. It’s a true one-off, that could only have been created at it’s unique time and place in musical history, by a group of freaks trying to do something new. I’m always interested in hearing people go down the road less traveled.
More Posts On Public Image Ltd. Include: Careering
More Posts On John Lydon Include: John Lydon Exposes Fake Media Behavior