“Metal Box” by Public Image Ltd. - album review

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TJR says

Canadian student Jim Walker had departed the group early in the year, dis-satisfied with the new direction they were taking. Several drummers took part in the recording sessions, with guitarists Levene and Wobble even taking to the chair to tap some rhythmic stick for the cause. The core trio line-up: John Lydon (vocals, piano!), Keith Levene (guitar, synths, drums) and Jah Wobble (bass guitar, drums, piano). Presumably, Walker was no fan of the avant-garde, for the new direction was quite unlike the preceding debut, delving headlong into anti-rock territories, their “Trout Mask Replica” to a “Strictly Personal” if you will. Letting the full flavour flood out, the one hour set was split into three wide-groove records, approximately 10 minutes each side, nicely filling up the pill-shaped tin in which they were housed. This sure was different.

Sowing the seeds of discontent from the off, “Albatross” takes up the entirety of side one and proceeds to kill the spirit of Fleetwood Mac's 1968 song, almost as if a musical skin is being shed, ready for a rebirth. The improvised 10 minutes set a bass-heavy tone, offset by abrasive, trebly shards of razorblade guitar and a vacant vocal which seems to have been delivered the morning after the night before. It's compellingly hellish, and quite the most un-commercial start you could ever wish to hear from an album. “Memories” and “Swan Lake” are more conventional, relatively speaking, bringing us back into the world of post-punk-funk, the latter flirting with a little bit of Tchaikovsky to keep us on our toes. It was a slight remake of “Death Disco” which Lydon had written for his recently deceased Mum, Eileen, who, when dying from cancer, had asked him to write her a disco song for her funeral: “Silence in your eyes, Never really know, Till its gone away, Never realize”. Bravery all 'round there.

First sight of glory arrives on record two with “Poptones”, a near 8 minute real-life tale of how cheap poptones from a cassette player literally led to convictions for abductors/rapists. Wobble's mesmerizing bassline accompanies Lydon's calm vocal which is detached yet quietly seethes. Wobble described it as “the jewel in the PiL crown… that bass-line is as symmetrical as a snowflake. To give him his due Levene went mental for it. We were at The Manor. We had a drummer [David Humphrey] with us who was pretty good… but the bloke just couldn't get the right feel for 'Poptones'… In the end Levene put the drums down on that track, his drums are a bit loose, but that is actually a good thing.” Giving us a bit of a laugh on record three is “The Suit”, a sarcastic diatribe written about a minder, Paul Young, labelled as a bit of a social climber, who was a friend of Lydon's until he borrowed one of his suits and returned it unwashed and odorous. Ye shall feel the wrath Sir: “Everyone loves you, Until they know you… You've gotta suntan, Football on Sunday, Society boy, On Social Security, It is your nature, Tennis on Tuesday, Sipping champagne”. He'll no' do that again in a hurry! “Mob! War! Kill! Hate!” is the “Chant” on the deranged march which features on the final side. It seems the pitchfork brigade are out; there's going to be a riot down in Trumpton tonight. “Radio 4” finishes the album ironically, a bland new age pisstake of the BBC. Against my better judgement I give it a neutral 5, so as not to affect the album's rating too much (should really be a 2). I guess it's a suitably odd finish to a very odd record.

The Jukebox Rebel

A [10:35] 7.3.png Public Image Ltd - Albatross (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, David Humphrey) Post-Punk
B1 [05:04] 6.9.png Public Image Ltd - Memories (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Richard Dudanski) Post-Punk
B2 [04:11] 6.7.png Public Image Ltd - Swan Lake (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, David Humphrey) Post-Punk
C1 [07:46] 8.0.png Public Image Ltd - Poptones (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle) Post-Punk
C2 [04:31] 6.4.png Public Image Ltd - Careering (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle) Dubbeat
D1 [04:41] 5.6.png Public Image Ltd - No Birds (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Richard Dudanski) Post-Punk
D2 [03:08] 6.7.png Public Image Ltd - Graveyard (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Richard Dudanski) Dubbeat
E1 [03:28] 8.6.png Public Image Ltd - The Suit (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle) Post-Punk
E2 [04:31] 6.1.png Public Image Ltd - Bad Baby (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Martin Atkins) Post-Punk
F1 [03:10] 6.6.png Public Image Ltd - Socialist (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Richard Dudanski) New Wave
F2 [05:01] 7.5.png Public Image Ltd - Chant (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle, Richard Dudanski) Trance Rock
F3 [04:24] 5.0.png Public Image Ltd - Radio 4 (John Lydon, Keith Levene, John Wardle) Electronica

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