“Public Image was the first single from Public Image Ltd, the concern that Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) threw together amid the wreckage of the recently crashed and burned Sex Pistols. And it was damned good. Hell, even I liked it on first listen from my then mostly anti-punk perspective. A serious call to … seriousness, I guess, Mr. Rotten making the point that he was more than just a cartoon character, a gimmick, a punk, that he knew a thing or two about music, how to sing a song, make a record, take steady aim, hit them all where it hurts. And damn, what a bass line!” (Philip Random)
“In which John Lydon (aka Rotten) conducts a mid-1980s re-imagining of the concern known as Public Image Ltd, engages with the likes of Bill Laswell, Ginger Baker, Stevie Vai etc, and blows more than a few minds. The album is called Album (of course), with Rise the big (almost) hit single. It’s about Apartheid apparently, but to my ears, it’s concerned more with anger itself, and its inherent elemental energy. Like wind or electricity or the stuff of split atoms, the question quickly becomes not, should we have it (fact is, we do and it ain’t going away), but what should we do with it? Get drunk and wail on some guy down at the pub, or maybe get it focused, turn it into a laser beam that destroys an empire, frees slaves, saves children from lives of boredom and futility? Not bad for a punk.” (Philip Random)
There’s no shortage of rage in the Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) discography, but nowhere else does so much sorrow show itself than in Death Disco (aka Swan Lake because it cops a bit of the Tchaikovsky melody), a track recorded immediately after the death of his mother (she requested some disco for her funeral). It actually hurts to listen to it, but in a good way (not that the whole album doesn’t lean that way) — the punk is revealed as all too human, just in case there was any doubt.
Public Image Ltd‘s fourth album, 1984’s This is What you Want … This is What you Get is a mess, the end result of a major reconfiguration of what had been one of the essential post-punk units. Main man John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was still on board, but previous compadres Jah Wobble and Keith Levine were both gone amid much drug and alcohol messing around and perhaps absconding with various master tapes. But the album wis not a complete write-off if only for its lead off track, The Order of Death, which is just a chant basically, the album’s title repeated and repeated to ultimately powerful effect. Or as Philip Random puts it, “… theme music for the movie I seemed to be stuck in at the time, the one concerning an entire culture going down in the sewage and bile of its own corrupt desires and obsessions. Or something like that.”
“Nobody saw this coming in 1986. Public Image Ltd (ie: original Sex Pistol John Lydon) combining forces with Bill Laswell, Ginger Baker, Riuchi Sakamoto, Stevie Vai (and more) and the result was something called Album (unless you bought it in cassette or CD format) which absolutely thundered when it wanted to. In the case of Ease, that meant the closest thing to a proper Led Zeppelin planet cruncher that anybody’d heard since at last 1975. I’m still pretty sure it set the atmosphere on fire for a few seconds one night in early spring.” (Philip Random)
By 1989, Public Image Ltd weren’t exactly redefining the zeitgeist anymore. In fact, it’s arguable they weren’t really a band anymore – just John Lydon‘s personal project. Which, in the case of Warrior, seemed to be about proving that he could rock at least as big as U2 (or whoever) and succeeding, with the best version a remix that’s now almost impossible to find, probably because of the sample of Old Lodge Skins himself laying down his humble but fierce warrior prayer.
“As the story goes, when Keith Levene split Public Image Ltd, he had a few recent master recordings under his arm. Which is a good thing. Else we probably would never have heard the likes of Blue Water, which first showed up as a b-side in 1983. Deep and weird and exactly the kind of thing you wanted cranked to the nines on your ghetto blaster when the drugs were all kicking in and you had an abandoned industrial zone to explore, with a fog moving in from the harbour and twilight looming.” (Philip Random)