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The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)

The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)

The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart) Box Sets: 5 CD & 2 DVD / 6 LP Vinyl (Virgin/UMC)

Way back in 1990, the very first PiL compilation was released, The Greatest Hits, So Far. The ‘so far’ proved to be more than a throw away quip, for 28 years later we arrive at another reference point, another moment in time to take stock and reflect, the 40th anniversary of Public Image Ltd. A staggering 6 hours 38 minutes of music is required to fully appreciate those 40 years. That’s without viewing the two DVDs that accompany the CD set.

Both formats are presented in a lush glossy box, embossed with a heart shaped chocolate box design. Quality Street, or just quality? Is the high end presentation a precursor for a high end experience? Let’s lift the lid and take a look.

The singles are the focal point of the box sets, but the comprehensive nature of this compilation pulls in B-sides, 12” mixes and dance tracks, before casting its net wider and gathering
together unreleased cuts and rare mixes. The result is a body of music that’ll take you on a ride through the familiar, the unfamiliar, the ground breaking, the spine tingling, and the downright scary. It’s a trip few will emerge from unchanged.

The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)As is the nature of the hard core fan, there will be those who gripe about the whereabouts of “track X, mix Y and take Z”. Hard choices have to be made, but this release has plenty even the die hards won’t have. Some of it hasn’t seen the light of day before, and what's more, these nuggets are plentiful. Instant stand-outs are Annalisa (New Mix 1979), Banging The Door (Alternative Mix 1980), Can You Feel The Fours (Unreleased Instrumental 1987), Open & Revolving (Alternative Mix 1987), Kashmir (Unreleased Renovations Mix 1987), and Worry (Ruff Mix 1988). There is also the welcome official release of the often bootlegged Bad Night.

The hard to find US remixes of Seattle, The Body and Happy add extra sheen to a plethora of fabulous 12” mixes, as does the instrumental Flowers Of Romance which sits snugly between the 12” versions of Death Disco and This Is Not A Love Song. Gratifying to see Things In E (aka Ease Alternative Laswell Mix), a 14 minute stunner, given a wider audience. This was previously only available in the Super Deluxe version of Album.

However, this retrospective isn’t aimed primarily at the niche market - far from it. There is both a generation of new fans just discovering PiL plus countless old timers wishing to reacquaint themselves. This delivers for both demographics by not just reliving the classic hits like This Is Not A Love Song and Rise but by leading the listener onto later glories like One Drop and Out Of The Woods. There’s a world of discovery to be explored and navigated, take for instance the previously vinyl-only B-side Turkey Tits or the oft-overlooked USLS1 (Mix), both gems in their own right.

The final CD in the collection is a live show recorded at the Ritz in New York in 1989. It's of fabulous quality, sounding like it was recorded yesterday. It may not have the notoriety of the Ritz show in 1981 which ended in a riot, but it does show a fully functional PiL riding high on a resurrected wave following a period of relative stability. It boasts an enthusiastic crowd, a buoyant John (“things seem to be going quite well, except for the boring bastards in the balcony!”) and a top set list.

Two DVDs form part of the CD box set. All the promos are here, 21 in total, including two for This Is Not A Love Song. The early classics still resonate, but don’t overlook the more recent videos such as Lollipop Opera which features additional ad-libs throughout from John. PiL’s BBC TV appearances from 79-89 are also here, complete with the band performing Disappointed on The Late Show as well as the more familiar TOTP and Whistle Test material, which by the way, is as breathtaking as ever.

The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)Nevertheless, the real jewels are the two live shows. The Tallin Festival in Estonia from 1988 sees John at his most colourful, certainly in terms of outfit and hair. It’s the Happy period, so six tracks from the LP get an airing. Perhaps overlooked in PiL history, Happy boasted some terrific songs as the ‘post Album’ band hit their own creative stride. Seattle, Rules and Regulations, Open and Revolving, Hard Times, Angry and The Body sound fabulous live, even 30 years later. Public Image, Religion, Rise and Holidays In The Sun provide familiar touch points, but to be fair to this packed crowd, they greet the whole set with equal excitement. Just look at all the PiL flags! Expertly filmed with A1 picture quality and sound, by the time World Destruction closes the set you’ll be dipping back into it again. Home or Bags anyone? RIP John McGeoch.

The second show was recorded in Sydney, Australia in 2013. Once again, the quality of the film and sound is second to none. Before anyone queries the merit of having two live shows in the collection, only two tracks feature in both performances, such is the breadth of PiL’s catalogue. Both Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith make the transition across the decades from the Estonia show. The gig itself is a 2 hour career retrospective with all eras covered. Kicking into life with a menacing Four Enclosed Walls we’re taken on a trip back and forth through the years. Reggie Song rubs shoulders with Disappointed and One Drop nestles alongside Death Disco. A highlight has to be the mega-version of Flowers Of Romance. Or maybe an equally outstanding Albatross. Confirmation that 21st century PiL are a force to be reckoned with. Still.

The 72 page hardback book is a veritable treasure trove of music press cuttings covering 40 years, alongside discographies and band details. If you buy the vinyl set, you get the super-sized version, which looks even more spectacular. Both formats come with a 40th anniversary tour poster and a set of four prints, which are also extra large with the vinyl. The vinyl has a download card so the listener can access all the additional music from the CD set plus two bonus songs, Betty Page and The One.

Phew! It seems a lifetime ago when the box sets arrived and the anticipation began. What a hell of a ride this set has proved to be. Never a dull moment, nor a chance to pause and take a breath as one of life's soundtracks sweeps you along, reviving memories and emotions, adding a few new ones and, when all is said and done, surpassing expectations. Above all, the collection leads to one indisputable conclusion; PiL have remained utterly unique and utterly brilliant for four decades.

40 years in the making, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart) is PiL’s gift to you. Well, isn’t that what friends are for?

Review by Phil Singleton

Buy 5 CD & 2 DVD / 6 LP vinyl (w/ d'load card)

God Save The Sex Pistols ©2018 Phil Singleton /
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God Save the Sex Pistols

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton /