1986 was a vastly different
world to the one that had given us Metal Box. We were half way through
another decade, the 10th anniversary of punk no less. When Album
appeared in February, it broke with the past, taking everyone by
surprise. Working with seasoned
musicians of the calibre of Steve Vai, L. Shankar and Ginger Baker was a radical move, one that left John and thus PiL reinvigorated.
Screeching guitars, epic drums, huge song
structures, brilliant lyrics, and a sneering cutting vocal delivery not
a million miles removed from Never Mind The Bollocks - it was startling stuff.
Was it metal, was it
progressive rock, was it stadium rock; what was it? Like John's best
work, it proved hard to categorise.
What was certain, it won praise from
across the board. Those pundits usually quick to denounce John were
struggling to find fault.
Album was a spectacular
record, completely devoid of 80s sounding production values
that date so many other records from this period. Album could easily be
a product of 2017. It remains timeless.
Disc One contains the
original 7 track LP, consistent in quality throughout and supremely
confident, whether biting hard with FFF and Fishing, contemplating with
Rise, getting dizzy with Round, or going mystical on Ease.
Disc Two, Brixton Academy 27.5.86,
is a time capsule, a snapshot of the old giving way to the new. The old,
unfortunately, saw the remnants of the spitting phenomenon that still
prevailed on occasion. This particular night was an unpleasant
experience for John "London audiences I shit on you. All you can do is
spit & pose. You're useless." With the vile practice continuing
throughout the gig, he finally brings Public Image to an abrupt end,
"You deserve nuclear war, you really do." Despite this, PiL return for
an encore, with John, to his credit, sounding upbeat. It's a bleak
reminder of what many bands had to contend with.
Even when faced with these
adverse conditions, the new look PiL were a fabulous live band.
Different again to the 83-85 live PiL group, the interpretations of
Banging The Door and Flowers Of Romance have a previously untapped
dynamic. The material from Album is reproduced with aplomb, which is
some compliment considering the calibre of the musicians who made the
studio recording. Round and Home are near perfect in the live
environment, with the electricity of the performance giving an added
edge. It's also worth noting the quality of the recording, which is
excellent. A superb live document, and for those like myself who caught
PiL on this tour, a wonderful nostalgia trip.
Disc Three, Mixes, Outtakes &
Things In E (Ease) Alternative Laswell Mix is 13 minutes of hard rock,
dripping in psychedelic ambience and percussive space, a real treat.
Ginger Baker’s drumming is astonishing, even the band stop at one stage
to listen to him!
Previously released 7" single edits of Rise and Home are here, as is
the instrumental Rise, originally a B-side (more a semi-instrumental in
truth). The Bob Clearmountain remix of Rise is welcome as,
in many ways,
it is as deadly as the original with variations in the prominence of
the instrumentation pricking up your ears.
PiL's Whistle Test
performance from May 86 (Home and Round) was important - it showed
the public that the band assembled by John could replicate Album live
under the TV microscope. Looking back, it's hard to imagine any other
set of musicians doing it better, 2 of which, Lu Edmonds and Bruce
Smith, are still in PiL today. The contributions of Allan Dias and in
particular John McGeoch, cannot be under estimated either.
It was a bit surprising to
see mixes of Time Zone - World Destruction included as the song
predates everything else by 12 months or so. Of course it makes perfect
sense, as it marked the first time Laswell & Lydon had got
together. This Lydon/Afrika Bambaataa team-up was staggering at the
time of release, unlike anything before or since. In an era of only 4
TV Channels in the UK, and scant music shows, the video still managed
showings on both The Tube and Whistle Test. As well as screaming "the
human race is becoming a disgrace" at the world, John was screaming
"I'm back." It was a renaissance that would crystalise with the release
Disc Four, Demos.
Here we enter an alternative timeline. What if Lydon hadn't
collaborated with Laswell? This gives a good indication. If you like
your demos radically different to the finished product, these from
summer 1985 will satisfy. Working with Mark Schulz and Jebin Bruni from
his previous live band, the impression is of PiL probing new unexplored
territory. The unmistakable avant-garde PiL-stamp and vocal
experimentation is in evidence as is the wish to veer from the norm.
Not all these demos were destined for Album, so let's start with the
This has lineage back to Tie Me To The Length Of That, with a dark,
child neglect lyric, distorted in its delivery and accompanied by
a creeping, crawling, musical backing. It's both amusing and
the 1st of 4 unreleased instrumentals, is suspense building cinematic
music; big screen PiL. Dolby Stereo (it was the 80s!) for the wide
screen PiL-fan. A pleasant surprise.
is fittingly a prowling, razor sharp tune that develops into a howling
guitar cacophony, a hint of the forthcoming Laswell marriage.
From film to TV, Have A Nice
Day has a 1970s sci-fi vibe, albeit in an embryonic state.
Endearing and infectious.
The final instrumental, Untitled
3, has a bass heavy structure and serves as a traditional PiL
template, if such a thing exists. It's far removed from what would
become Album, but it shows a link to the past was there in spirit
The early demos that would
eventually evolve into Album are fascinating; the sound of a band in a state of flux.
Black Rubber Bags (Bags) is
haunting and suffocating. When John sings "close to the edge, swallow
the void" you believe the rubber is choking him.
European Cars (aka Round) is
a radical funky affair, closer to Solitaire than the Laswell produced
Round it would blossom into.
Fairweather Friend (aka FFF) continues this electro-funk groove,
while digging a more bombastic ditch courtesy of the guitar. "I think
that's enough of that rock 'n' roll bullshit" remarks John part way
Before Swine (aka Fishing) is minimalistic in execution.
Musically, it's in its infancy, but the biting lyrics and John's
disapproving delivery carry it.
Things in E
(Ease) Instrumental has an eastern, mystical, exotic sound that
would filter through to Album itself. Put simply, it's an outstanding
piece of music.
The final 'pearl' on this disc is an incomplete version
of... Pearls Before Swine.
It's hardly incomplete at almost 7 minutes, and as it progresses, there
is more of a taste of what was to come compared to the alternative demo
of the same song. John's vocal and enhanced yet controlled guitar make
for an enjoyable end to the disc.
Overall, the demos
illustrate without doubt that things could have been so different. Better?
Not at all, but different certainly.
The sturdy, beautifully
designed 4 vinyl LP version of the set consists of Album, Mixes &
Outtakes 1 and 2 which between them cover CD3 in its entirety, and
Demos which includes tracks 1-6 of CD4.
A download card ensures you get
all the CD material. Art cards, a poster, and 72 page book come with
both formats, but if you like them super-sized, you need the vinyl.
Album lives and breathes
once more. Four hours of it.
by Phil Singleton
'Metal Box' Super Deluxe