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Thursday, July 10, 2008


Also known as 'Compact Disc', and 'Cassette', Public Image Ltd. released 'Album' in 1985 and confused the hell out of people.

PIL co-founder Keith Levene had departed in 1983, his drug habit having disabled his ability to perform, leaving John 'Rotten' Lydon holding the bag so to speak. The lack luster (lustre) 'This Is What You Want.....' followed in 1984, and it was clear that Lydon needed some help getting on with it without Levene, who had provided the soundscapes over which Lydon spat his vitriol.

In stepped producer Bill Laswell who took over as musical director and supplied Lydon with a band for the recording of 'Album'. That band, the un-likeliest band for a Johnny Rotten project, consisted of Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Ginger Baker.

As one would suppose, given the personalities involved, the album was unlike previous PIL records; it was unlike any previous records. I mean, wasn't Ginger Baker dead?

Well, dead or not, Ginger managed to leave Laswell and Lydon an album's worth of solid pounding drums. Laswell gives Ginger's performance the big 80's drum treatment, but with a lot of room that sounds like a room and not a reverb.

And Steve Vai? Wasn't he the enemy? Apparently not. For all of Vai's considerable ability to shred, for all of his stunning flash displayed on any other record he appears on, it is his unselfish song-serving lack of profile playing that he puts in on 'Album' that earns him copious amounts of respect. Sure, he tosses in some speedy arpeggios during the fade-outs on a few cuts, but he gives John the spotlight throughout the record, as he should have. Maybe Laswell had to dial him back a bit, but I like to think Steve just knew what the gig was, and did the job he was hired to do. It must have been refreshing for him.

The hit was 'Rise', John's take on the old Irish blessing; 'May the road rise to meet you'. Lyrically 'Rise' is typical Lydon rhetoric, keeping things well ambiguous. He could be wrong, he could be right. You just can't nail John down.

'Rise' aside, with it's chimey guitars and melodic treatments, the whole album fairly stomps along with bashing relentless rhythms as established by the opening track, 'FFF', which seethes appropriately, but I think 'Fishing', the third cut, is the stand-out number. It contains my favorite post-Pistols Lydon moment. Taking a page from the Streisand canon and snidely turning it on it's ear, he quips: "People who need people are the stupidest of people".

Truly 'anger is an energy', and John has never lacked for energy, but it was Bill Laswell on 'Album' who managed to focus the anger/energy, and deliver a consistent PIL record, a serious PIL record.

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