This is Pil Review

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If you want a recent album that dances to its own strange logic, check out the Public Image Ltd. album This is Pil.  It came out in 2012 and I shamefully admit that I am only grasping it in its full glory now.  John Lydon’s PIL collective has issued its fair share of ground breaking moments, from Metal Box to The Flowers of Romance.  It isn’t as easy to break ground in today’s music business, but this album creates its own aura.  

First of all Lydon (Johnny Rotten) is fine form.  His lyrics range from direct political attacks to the completely surreal.  “England has died”, he sings on one song, while on another he sings, “You wanna see me mushroom.”  In a song called Lollipop Opera you have a good idea what kind of mushrooms he Is singing.  This is festival music.  It is meant to challenge and be enjoyed by large groups or people.  If Terry Gilliam made a record, well you get the idea.  It is subversive and fantastic. 

For the first time in a long time PIL sounds like a band.  The rhythm section plays giant dubby parts like early pil.  Lu Edmonds,  formerly of The Damned, as well as an earlier incarnation of PIL, plays guitar and a multitude of instruments in the higher frequencies.   His playing is truly something to behold.  Listen to Deeper Water, maybe the best track on the album, as his playing on that song is magisterial.  

This album is not an older band cashing in.  It is as vibrant and hungry as any new band out there, pushing the boundaries of what music can do. 

If I have any criticism of this album it is only that the first track, which is the weakest, goes on too long.  But overall this is a true return to form that not only doesn’t tarnish the band’s legacy, but expands upon it. 

The album sounds mostly live, with a minimum amount of overdubs and studio effects.  There is just enough added to each track to add some interesting textures, without taking the focus off of the four piece unit. 

This album is not for everyone.  Lydon and his cohorts are not afraid to create sounds and dabble in ideas that are uncomfortable at times.  However, those that are brave enough to take the journey will find a small piece of uncharted territory to visit. 

Favorite Tracks:
One Drop
Deeper Water
Human
Out of the Woods

Invest In What You Value

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I just read that record sales are down 14% this year.  It is a shame, because this has actually been a year when a fair amount of good to great records have been released.  I don’t understand, especially in a capitalist system, why people don’t understand the idea that artists near to be paid for their work.  I mean I think creative people will create no matter how much money they are making.  However, if people are investing in their work they will create more and possibly do more groundbreaking work, as making records takes money.  Making records that really push the boundaries of what recorded sound can do really takes money!  The more you stream or steal, the more you are just going to end up with pop being just elevator music.  Music that sounds good in car commercials.  Those that make car commercial music are rewarded more than those that make great albums.  How sad is that?!!!  So if you want there to be a large amount of decent music being made, invest in artists.  That is the deal, someone makes something you like that inspires you, spend ten dollars investing in their work.  Then there is the possibility that they will make something else that inspires you.  That might not always be the case, but anything you invest in has a slight amount of risk involved.  In Canada artists often get grants from the government when they start out.  That is not going to happen here, not for a long time if ever, in the world of pop music anyway.  We need individuals to step up to the plate.  Stealing is stealing anyway you cut it, and streaming isn’t paying out like selling records is yet.  So there you go, you know who you are?  If you value something make a small investment in something.  It will lead to more things that you value.

Jimmy Cliff World Upside Down

One of the best albums in recent years is Jimmy Cliff’s Rebirth.  It is the full package with an artist at the top of their game.  It is political, emotional, soulful, and absolutely fearless.  The production by Tim Armstrong is note perfect.  Somehow Jimmy Cliff can sing as powerfully now as he ever did.  This live performance on Jools Holland is stunning.  If you get the chance also check out the YouTube clip of him performing One More from this same performance in 2012.

Protests Erupt Over Opera

The opera The Death of Klinghoffer is causing all kinds of drama in NYC.  I just read the following New York Times article about it:

New York Times The Death of Klinghoffer

If you want to read a basic description of the plot and what people find controversial about it you can find it on Wikipedia:

Wikipedia The Death of Klinghoffer

I am not going to pretend that I understand the opera having not seen or heard it.  I do think Rudy Giuliani is an ambulance chaser, but that can be a conversation for another day.

Here is my question:  When is the last time that a pop song, let alone an opera, started a serious political discussion?  This is what art is supposed to do, to bring up subjects in a way that get people discussing things in a peaceful manner.  The opera may be great or it may be terrible, but it has gotten people talking about an important political topic, one of which there isn’t enough discussion on.  It doesn’t seem as it is, by design, meant to anger or offend people.  It seems like it is the work of a serious artist that is trying to get people to think.

People have the right to peacefully protest anything they want.  If they find the opera offensive it is their right to stand outside and provide people with an alternative viewpoint, as long as they do not threaten or harass those that want to see it.

However, when it comes to art I would rather see a free exchange of ideas.  I would rather see some kind of in depth and honest criticism of the work than a protest.

However, in this case, I think the protestors lose in two ways.  First they are meeting complex ideas with something simple.  Second, they are drawing attention to something that they don’t want people to see.  That never works.  Protests are a a great way to bring attention to things that aren’t receiving enough attention.  Let’s face it, operas have about 0% effect on popular culture in America.  I don’t even know the names of any newer operas other than this one and I listen to a ton of music, including on occasion opera.  Now I am interested in seeing this one at some point just to see what all the racket is about.

I remember when The Passion of the Christ came out.  There was a lot of controversy over that.  I don’t like to let others make up my mind for me, so I went to see a movie that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, because I wanted to decide for myself what I thought about it.  I did not like the movie, because I thought it dwelled on all the wrong aspects of Jesus, but I was glad I went because it was a large part of the cultural conversation at the time.  In my opinion anything that makes one think is a good thing, even if at the end of the day what you think is that you don’t like it.

Siouxsie and the Banshees Into the Light

Alright, I need to get off here for the night and disconnect.  I’m exhausted from the trip and my brain is running on overdrive.  I thought some Siouxsie and the Banshees would be a perfect way to end an October night.  The guitar work in this song, by John McGeoch, is simply fantastic, especially in the chorus.

Happy?

pil-happy1

I’ve been diving into my Public Image Ltd. collection.  Today I was listening to the album Happy?.  This album, as well as featuring mainstay John Lydon on vocals, also features John McGeoch and Lou Edmonds, formerly of the Banshees and The Damned respectively.  It’s a strange album.  It’s almost as if space aliens made an 80’s pop record.

I really love the first three Public Image albums.  Those would be First Issue, Metal Box (also known as Second Edition), and The Flowers of Romance.  Don’t make a mistake, if you are not into really bizarre uncomfortable music that is much more about the sound than the songs then you are not going to like these albums.  Metal Box is my favorite.  I love the super low dub-like bass with the high pitched razor blade guitar playing over it.  It’s really unlike anything else in music.  I truly believe they were years ahead of their time on these three releases.  A lot of Radiohead’s more experimental stuff, and much of new indie music that is on the fringe, pales in comparison to just how weird this stuff is.  I’m not saying that negates anything Radiohead or anyone else has done, just simply that in terms of turning pop music inside out, PIL got their first.  If you read early fearful interpretations of what punk sounded like, before it became accepted by the mainstream, and you hadn’t heard any of it, this is what you would think it would sound like, not the melodic primitive rock n roll that it was.

I don’t like Public Image Ltd. because they are strange.  There is plenty of experimental stuff that just sounds like someone going up their own asshole.  Generally as a fan of recorded sound they were doing really interesting groundbreaking stuff.  And the thing about it is, really the first two albums as The Flowers of Romance is its own weird trip, it sounds like a band.  A lot of times when we hear stuff pushing the parameters of sound now it is studio manipulation.  I’m not saying there was none of that on these records, but by and large these were people taking preexisting instruments and playing them in totally unique and interesting ways.  Especially in today’s world, when so much is able to be manipulated through computers, it is exciting to me to think about someone like Keith Levene just taking an electric guitar and making it sound otherworldly just in the way he approached it.

Anyway, so I was listening to Happy? today.  I can’t say it is a great record.  It is not PIL at their best and the keyboard and drum sounds are too 80’s in a way that makes it sound dated, where the first three albums sound outside of time.  However, it is still unique in the arrangements, playing, and singing.  It’s still just bizarre enough that if you visualize things when you listen to music you can almost picture people inhabiting that strange building that is on the front cover.  Again, imagine if aliens had all the technology of an 80’s recording studio, and had seen a little pop music, but didn’t understand it enough to make something that was really human.

If I believed in giving things stars or points, which I don’t, I don’t know how many I’d give it.  It is truly a puzzling recording.  But there aren’t that many I can say that about.  I don’t find it enjoyable in the way that I enjoy most records, but I certainly don’t dislike it either.  It is not great or grand, but it has its own little universe all to itself, and that is some kind of accomplishment isn’t it?

All I Ask For In Music

I absolutely love music.  It is not only my job, but also my hobby and religion.  Anyone that travels with me will tell you that I wear headphones around the clock.  Occasionally this is self preservation, a way to disconnect,  but mostly I just can’t listen to enough albums. 

As long as music seems authentic, I’m a fan.  I don’t care if it is Richard Wagner or Slade.  I love trashy garage rock and sophisticated jazz.  I like Frank Sinatra and Jeff “Stinky” Turner.  I love Motown love songs and Lou Reed’s Edgar Allen Poe influenced album The Raven.  In pop music I am a fan of singers first.   I need to connect in some way with the singer.  I need to feel they are singing with their soul and not just copping someone else’s bit off of the radio. 

Sometimes people think I am a music snob, because I’ll slag off this or that, but I really am open to so many different kinds of music.  I am just passionate about this stuff.  Even if civilization broke down people would still be singing something and banging out rhythms,  even if it was just on a trash can.  You can tell so much about someone just by the way they sing. 

I am reading John Lydon’s new biography, Anger is an Energy, and he is talking about how these TV shows like American Idol and X Factor are ruining singing by making it too much about singing correctly.  He says they are basically making pop stars out of cruise ship singers.  Singing really should be about nothing more than communicating some kind of strong emotion. 

I can’t listen to most of modern radio.  Autotune, unless it is used as an effect to purposely make a voice sound robotic, is killing music.  It takes some of the humanity out of people’s voices.  Life isn’t perfect.  Pain and sadness and even happiness are complicated.  Sometimes a great a singer like Sam Cooke can convey how you are feeling, and sometimes it is James McMurtry with his dry monotone delivery.  Paul Westerberg hits bum notes sometimes, but he always gets the emotion of something dead on.  There are no rules. 

I love intellectual music, but music doesn’t need to be intellectual.  It just needs to be emotional.  So much of what is out there is just vanilla emotions.  There is no pain or sadness or joy.  There is just the imitation of life, sometimes with convenient product placements in tow.  It is the song as lifestyle brand. 

Music should open doors, not close them.  As soon as music becomes too tribal, I am out.  “I am driving my truck and waving the flag because that is what a real American does.”  Fuck you!  “Look at all these things I own that you don’t.”  And fuck you too! 

Tell me how you feel and what you think.  Be complicated.  Don’t parrot someone else’s emotions or thoughts.  Be yourself.  When I plug in my headphones, that is all I ask.