Review Summary: A very uneven album the high points of which barely overpower the low ones.
There is a certain set of qualities that I appreciate when it comes to musicians. One of them is creative flexibility - the ability of an artist to alter their signature sound in order to explore new musical grounds and to push the creator's personal boundaries further. After all, it is not a coincidence that some of the most engaging and original acts have variety and constant experimentation for a modus vivendi. And among them are Public Image Ltd. - the band that, being one of the first in the post-punk genre (the boundaries of which still remain quite unclear, to me at least), decided to stake as many of the aforementioned musical grounds as possible. Over the years John Lydon and the gang have went a long way: from the "almost-punk" tunes of First Issue to slightly melancholic bass-driven grooves of Metal Box to spacious, haunting percussion rhythms of Flowers Of Romance. Creative change has pretty much become the main gimmick of the band. Was it good for their fourth studio release?
Both yes and no if you ask me.
After listening to This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get I got a feeling that this album was a result of putting together a couple of completely unrelated sets of songs so that one does not have to record more new material. To that matter, five of the songs have already appeared on Commercial Zone, the album PiL released on their independent record label, so I do not exclude the possibility that the band rerecorded some songs and also threw in a bunch of random new stuff so that the "official" release would be at least a bit different.
Anyway, the album can clearly be divided into two parts. The first part, which consists of three tracks, is actually really good. Here PiL try their hand at dance-punk, and it surprises me how well it works. The catchy bassline and occasional horns of Bad Life set the mood instantly and at times even make me think of Oingo Boingo. This Is Not A Love Song, which is considered by many to be among the best works by Public Image Ltd., has a catchy rhythm and a sarcastic response to those who see Lydon as a sellout. Finally, Solitaire is the most energetic of the three, making you dance while dismissing the arrogant, know-it-all youth.
And now for what comes when the fun ends. Come to think of it, the contrast is so striking here that I can't help but think that this was the band's creative idea: to showcase something that the listener (or the label?) *wants* in the first part, then do something completely different as if nothing happened.
Sadly, what we *get* is mostly disappointing. Tie Me To The Length Of That is a slow track with a decent bassline in the forefront and something vague about doctors being cruel to newborn babies for a lyrical idea, giving us such disturbing lines as "fondling surprises". However, this one is not all that bad, especially compared to the three songs that come next. The Pardon, Where Are You? and 1981 all sound like discarded Flowers Of Romance candidates, although only the latter is proven to be one. The Pardon is essentially five minutes of stomping and endlessly repeating four notes that do not even form a melody of any kind, 1981 tries to be interesting by adding an assortment of wind instruments to the background but they just turn into a cacophony, and speaking of horrible sounds...
Where Are You? must be one of the most annoying songs I have ever listened to. Not because of a strange jumble of orchestral sounds in the background, not because of the headache-inducing drum beat, but mainly because of John Lydon's conscious decision to make his voice as high-pitched and grating as possible. When I found out the lyrics of this one were originally addressed to Lou Reed, I couldn't help but imagine Lydon march by Reed's window with a drum at 3 a.m., trying to get a reaction.
The situation gets a little better in the very end. The Order Of Death is a gliding synthesizer track with a very nice melody, the true spiritual successor to Radio 4. Looking back, I'd like a little more of those on PiL's albums.
Overall, I'd still recommend this album to all the fans of the band, as half of the material here is still really enjoyable. As for the more casual listeners,
This Is Not A Love Song is featured on most PiL compilations.
This Is Not A Love Song
The Order Of Death