Review Summary: Always a bitter PiL to swallow
Do you remember that terrible advert for Country Life butter? Sure you do, don’t claim ignorance now. It was the one where John Lydon, once very much ensconced in the filth and the fury, ponced around a farm dressed up like the Mad Hatter, shilling fatty yellow blocks of dairy produce. It was a watershed moment for those who like to throw the term “sell out” around like so much confetti. Of course, Lydon being Lydon, he has since defended his foray into the wonderland of advertising by stating the fee he received funded PiL’s first album in 20 years…but was it worth the hassle?
The most surprising thing about This Is PiL
is the fact that it’s actually pretty bloody good. You could be forgiven for being wary about this record’s potential as little else but a cash-in. All of those dead-rubber Sex Pistols reunion shows can have a negative effect on the perception of Lydon as an artist with something to say. That’s neither here nor there however; he and his group prove they are still a vital, urgent and relatively fresh outfit with plenty of axes to grind.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a few years, you’ll have noticed that the world is beset by social, political and economic turbulence. It’s fertile ground for a man with a sharp mind, and Lydon doesn’t disappoint in aiming his ire at all and sundry. “Deeper Water”, at once hypnotic and addictive, sees unadulterated scorn poured on “bristled bastards that will lead you to the shore, dash you on the rocks.” He also finds time to rail against “ignorant strangers”, backed by sparse, reverb-laden instrumentation that successfully captures the bleakness conveyed by Lydon’s lyrics. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the group claimed “Deeper Water” was laid down in one improvised take. If this is true, then it’s a glowing reference for the talent of all involved. It plays like a stream-of-consciousness poem, and it’s a notion that stays with you for the entire album; peaking with the exceptional and sinister “The Room I Am In.” Lydon once more throws on his Social Commentary Hat, and gives an insight into the manic, lonely thoughts of a drug-abuser living alone in their one bedroom rat’s nest on a grotty council estate. It’s stark and unapologetic, showing that despite living in a nice, comfortable castle in Ireland, Lydon still understands the places he inhabited as a younger man. Perhaps he sees himself as the subject of “The Room I Am In” had things not gone so well for him.
Lydon’s disconnected thoughts patterns and fragmented language continue with the juddering “Human.” He screeches out against corrupt forms of order and the nature of existence in adverse conditions. He longs for the days “when football was not a yawn”, but sees little hope emerging in an England he thinks “died” a long time ago. An insistent rhythm sections begs for your attention as a welcome slab of heavy guitar interrupts proceedings at regular intervals. “Terra-gate” offers something similar, holding back nothing and instigating a much-welcome injection of pace and power into the record. “Lollipop Opera” offers a completely different perspective altogether, eschewing the po-faced seriousness of the other tracks for something akin to a demented nursery rhyme.
Of course, PiL’s propensity for playing around with forms of dub and reggae means that the group are no strangers to meandering, over-gratuitous use of repetition and a notable lack of focus and direction from Lydon’s lyrics. “Fool” casually ambles along, inducing boredom from the get-go and makes no real impact on the album. Closing track “Out Of The Woods” suffers a similar fate. Clocking in at just under ten minutes long, it soon becomes a test of the listener’s endurance and is an unfortunate end to an otherwise great album.
No doubt there were a few embittered music hacks hoping This Is PiL
would be an absolutely wretched piece of crap. Lydon has riled up enough people in the past, and maybe some with one eye on revenge would have loved to stick a nail or two in the coffin. Alas, PiL have created something solid, vicious and with enough value for repeat listens. It’s as much a genuine statement of intent as the title suggests.