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Public Image Limited - Super Deluxe Editions: Metal Box

Super Deluxe Editions
  Vinyl Album / Compact Disc / Digital Box Sets (UMC)

In his first 10 years as a 'popular music artist' John Lydon lay at the centre of no less than 3 ground breaking pieces of work: Never Mind The Bollocks, Metal Box, & Album.
All 3 vastly different, yet equally significant, era defining masterpieces.
It is only proper that Metal Box & Album are given the luxury treatment and accompanied by a wealth of visual material that places you back in the time that spawned them.

Super Deluxe

Metal Box

When Metal Box was released at the tail end of '79, it was a strange time in the UK, depressed & bleak, more so I would argue, than at any time during the decade. Intentionally or otherwise, Metal Box was both the perfect fit and the perfect antidote. It was greeted with rave reviews & multiple plaudits, although John himself would later quip that the reviewers liked it for the wrong reasons!

Levene & Wobble combined to paint a stark desolate landscape for Lydon to colour with his poetry and cutting delivery. And what poetry! Rich, visual, & evocative. Free from a regular rock song structure, Lydon was enjoying a new found freedom of expression. There were no hiding places in the space provided by PiL's music, and there didn't need to be. John's vocal was as much an instrument as the bass, guitar, and drums and the lyrics themselves merely add to this premise. Lyrics that can be fully absorbed thanks to the superb 70+ page book that accompanies the set.

Disc One contains the original LP - so you should/ought to be familiar with this.

Disc Two, B-sides, Mixes & BBC Sessions
compiles the re-mixes and variations originally released in '79, plus TOTP audio, the John Peel December '79 session,  and the Old Grey Whistle Test appearance the following February plus Pied Piper from the Various Artists LP Machines. Special mention here for the 12" Death Disco & its B-side Half Mix/Megga Mix. Released in the summer prior to Metal Box, this became the alternative soundtrack for the holidays.

Disc Three, Rare & Unreleased Mixes. While discs 1 & 2 bring together the material previously available in one form or another, disc 3 is another thing altogether.  It's brilliant and deserves a track by track analysis.
Poptones (Version 3) is injected throughout with subtle sounds, at times edgy, at times psychedelic. Always a visual song, the back of the woods now seems even more dangerous with John's elongated snarl of "Poptones" surrounded by a jagged element unique to this version. There's a Hitchcock film in here somewhere. Frightening.
Swan Lake (Monitor Mix) clocks in at just under 10 minutes, and is for now at least, my favourite version of the song, due to the unfamiliar crisp metallic mix. You've a feeling they could have gone on forever, and may have done if John hadn't decided "that's long enough for anyone, innit?"
Albatross (Monitor Mix) is noisier than the more familiar cut. It's a touch busier as well, remaining haunting and hypnotic throughout. One of John's finest lyrics of the period as he breaks free of the millstone placed around his neck, this mix is just as valid in delivering his escape from the past.
Swan Lake (Master) may differ little in the rhythm stakes from the other takes of the song, but it varies greatly in texture, guitar and ambience. It's 7 minutes 44 seconds of unfolding terror with sinister vocals to match. This is essential for any PiL fan seeking solace in a truly frightening hideaway.
Unknown Instrumental Jam 1 (Chant) is the kind of sonic indulgence that is hard to shake and shows how skilled Levene & Wobble were at developing distinctive sounds.
Unknown Jam 2 (Megachant) is a strange one. John's in there warbling amongst the keyboards and thudding of drums. A bit like a nightmare come to life during a church service. Take cover behind the pulpit as "Mob, War, Kill, Hate" emerges from the mist.
Music From An Oven (aka Memories) is an early mix of the single, not vastly different, but certainly enough to warrant inclusion.
Radio 4 (Symphony Suite) expands Metal Box's most unsettling piece by 3 minutes. The track which originally used to bring Metal Box to a melancholy end, is now epic in length and drama. The result is a living and breathing soundscape in its own right.
Home Is Where The Heart Is (Original Mix) with Wobble on bass finds its perfect home on this disc following its more familiar placing as the B-side to Flowers of Romance, which never sat quite right. It's no classic, but now in the correct setting in a more concise form, it seems more alive.
In a similar vein, the closing track Unknown Instrumental 2 from March 1980 is Wobble-fest extravaganza which should please connoisseurs of Jah.

Disc Four, Live in Manchester. This was a good bit of thinking, including a live representation of the work. With PiL playing only 3 shows during '79, what could be better than this one from June, recorded during the making of Metal Box? PiL were an enigma at the time, and the hastily arranged nature of this gig only added to this. Although not the same quality recording as the 1980 Lydon/Levene/Wobble live document Paris Au Printemps, it is more authentic, more satisfying. Relaxed chaos abounds as PiL, when they feel like it, deliver the goods, and do so spectacularly. Swan Lake cuts like a knife. If proof were needed that they were powerful live, here it is.

The rough & ready nature of the recording has left the humour and chat in situ, with contributions from Keith, Jah & of course John, '"we admit our mistakes!" New drummer Richard Dudanski, making his live debut, gets ribbed also. These guys are having fun; it's not all doom & gloom in PiL-land.

Away from the music, both the CD & vinyl versions of the set are packaged in either a square (vinyl) or oblong (CD) metal tin, and look amazing. Within the sets lies the afore mentioned booklet, packed with lyrics and track information, and scores of contemporary press cuttings, magazine covers, adverts, and reviews which tell their own story of PiL during this phase. A poster and art cards complete the collection.

If you wish to push the boat out, treat yourself to the 4 LP vinyl version. Everything looks that bit grander, and let us be straight here, Metal Box was originally envisaged with 12" vinyl in mind. It makes sense. The original LP is spread over 2 vinyl discs, with the live show occupying a 3rd. The final LP includes the Peel session and monitor mixes of Swan Lake & Albatross. No excuses if you can't/won't play vinyl as you get a download card which also includes all the additional tracks from the CD set. Super-deluxe is exactly what it is.

Metal Box lives and breathes once more. Four hours of it.

Review by Phil Singleton

'Album' Super Deluxe review >

Metal Box

God Save The Sex Pistols ©2017 Phil Singleton /
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.

God Save the Sex Pistols

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton /