This is the single to the new Public Image Ltd. album, What the World Needs Now…, called Double Trouble. It’s a complex record where John Lydon once again proves that he is not going to play by anyone’s rules but his own. PIL, as they’re also known, has a unique discography that is really indescribable due to the amount of genres they piece together. One album, or even song, might sound nothing like the next. There is an abundance of dub influenced bass lines and angular post-punk guitars, but even those are entirely done away with at times. The album The Flowers of Romance has no almost no bass or guitar on many of the tracks. At times they have dabbled in synthpop, but even their synth pop is nothing like the kind that was predominant in the 80’s. The only sound that ties their records together is that of Lydon’s voice. Although on the last two records PIL has retained their lineup, the first two records also had the same lineup, although not the one they have now, Lydon has remained their only consistent member.
I haven’t heard the album enough to write a proper review yet. The song above is about a domestic dispute between him and his wife over fixing the toilet. Lydon, the same person that wrote the lyrics to Anarchy In the U.K. and God Save the Queen, hasn’t retired from political statements. Lydon still sings about the state of the world, hence the album title, if in at times a slightly more abstracted way. He still, as always, has a true sense of justice and is deeply troubled by the class systems in the world.
But for right now, until I have a better grasp of the record, I want to talk about the single and why I like it, even if it is one of the lighter pieces on the record. Lydon is less of a singer at this point than an actor. However, I don’t mean that he is hiding behind personas. He is one of the most authentic people in music. But less than singing a tightly written melody, he allows his voice to embody the emotion of a song. You may listen to the song above and hear a lack of singing range, you may think his voice lacks a melodicism in the song, which it does. But that isn’t the point. If you listen to the record as a whole, he has a great expressive range in his voice, even more so than he has in the past. His vocals take on all kinds of interesting characteristics through the album. Lydon is channeling emotions in a way to get at truth.
The french philosopher Montaigne talked about how the functions of the body, something which is rarely talked about in polite company, is actually a part of life that all people must deal with. Because all people must deal with it, it is actually something that should be dealt with in discussion. It shouldn’t be outside the realm of philosophy. I am simplifying to get to the point, Montaigne is actually more complicated, but I couldn’t help but think of this idea when I listened to the new PIL single.
I always talk about how I like songwriters who expand the form. Lydon is taking a subject that everyone who has been in a relationship, or who has had roommates at least, has dealt with, yet doesn’t get put to music because it isn’t glamorous. Lydon is taking a little piece of everyday life and making a little painting out of it, even if it is a garish, somewhat silly one. I’m not trying to make the song seem more important than it is, but in a way he is destroying the idea of the pop star, as pop stars are often nothing more than images that are made to seem like they are above the trappings of everyday humanity.
I personally love the sound of the track, with Lydon’s bratty vocal, and especially the skronky guitar part laid out by the always great Lu Edmonds. But why would Lydon choose this song as not only the first single, but the first track on the album, an album that I can already tell deals with more serious themes? I don’t quite know yet, but I have some theories. First, Lydon has always had a sense of fun about him. There is no doubt about that. However, I also think that in Lydon’s choice to sing about something “real”, he is showing that he can be trusted. When he sings about weightier topics, its not as someone that is casting judgment from an ivory tower, but his messages come from someone that is down in the human muck with the rest of us, trying to navigate this strange world, being as honest as he can.