Monday, August 10, 2009

August 10: Public Image Ltd, "Second Edition"

Artist: Public Image Ltd.
Album: Second Edition
Year: 1980
Label: Warner Bros.

Though he is far more famous for his work with U.K. punk pioneers, the Sex Pistols, John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten, found his creative high point with his later band, Public Image Limited. Often better known as PiL, the band and their music are innovate and complex; or in other words, nearly the complete opposite of everything that made the Sex Pistols famous. Following the end of the Sex Pistols, the band formed after Virgin Records founder, Richard Branson, failed to convince the band DEVO to bring on Lydon as a new lead singer. Following this incident, Lydon scouted out his new band members, and they quickly released their simply titled debut, First Issue in 1978. In many ways, the albums he recorded with PiL are just as revolutionary as his Sex Pistols work, yet the PiL albums seem to get less credit for the amazing music found therein. Creating amazingly deep grooves and finding ways to incorporate synthesizers into what can be seen as some of the earliest post-punk music, PiL have influenced countless bands since they came together in the late 1970's. Though the band would go through many lineup changes and it would eventually become a vehicle for Lydon to explore his love for dance-dub, the groups' second album, 1980's Second Edition remains by far one of the most remarkable and innovative records ever released.

Though it is often the source of confusion, Second Edition and the bands' previous release, 1979's Metal Box, are in fact, the same album. The songs on the two albums are exactly the same, though the track order has been slightly altered on the third and forth sides of Second Edition. Furthermore, there are pauses of silence between the tracks on Second Edition, and the 16mm film reel canisters that were used as the packaging on Metal Box were replaced by a standard gatefold for Second Edition. The only other difference is that Metal Box was released on Virgin Records in the U.K., while Second Edition was released by Warner Brothers in the U.S. One strange thing also can be found on the U.S. releases of the record where although the band was signed to Warner Brothers, the Island Records logo appears on the record, with the Warner catalog number. The album itself is truly revolutionary, as one simply cannot find anything before it that it even remotely resembles. While their debut record was a largely conventional affair, Second Edition fuses together slow, deep groves with almost disco-equse rhythms, and it is by far one of the strangest, yet most impressive albums ever recorded.

The music found on Second Edition is nothing short of stupendous, as the band creates an amazingly thick and deep sound that is full of fantastic soundscapes. Mostly comprised of slower tempo, exceptionally heavy sounding bass-driven rock, there are few bands who even remotely resemble the amazing sound created by PiL. Keith Levine, who was an early member of The Clash, plays both keyboard and guitar on the album, and the moods he creates are a brilliant combination somewhere between Joy Division and The Doors. The only other person who plays on every track is bassist Jah Wobble. Wobble (real name John Warlde) was an old friend of Lydon and had begun play with with him during the final days of the Sex Pistols. Wobble pulls much of his music from the dub and reggae styles, and these influences come through clearly and add another dimension to the bands' sound. At the time of the recording, original drummer Jim Walker had already left the band, so the drumming duties on Second Edition are credited to give people, including both Levine and Wobble. It is beyond impressive that, even with these different individuals, the drums are consistently solid throughout the album, and unless one is made aware, it is impossible to tell that this is the truth of the matter. The music created by PiL is truly amazing, and while it is undoubtedly highly experimental post-punk in nature, it is also somehow simultaneously amazingly catchy, and often sounds like some strange form of dance music.

Perhaps the most significant aspect to this entire record is how far a cry Lydon's vocals are from his days as the most notorious punk singer in history. Often sounding like a mixture of Mark E. Smith and Nick Cave, his words and wailings are filled with so much emotion that it is nothing short of stunning when one compares the album to his previous band. For those who want nothing to do with the sound of the Sex Pistols, one must experience PiL to discover how fantastic a vocalist truly lived within Lydon. His vocals slide in and out of the sound patterns, and they are far more of a part of the sound, as opposed to something that is being lain over the music. This cohesion of music and vocals completes the often breathtaking sound that makes Second Edition so fantastic. Lyrically, Second Edition is just as contrasting to Lydon's earlier work as everything else about the record. While his angst-ridden approach is still very present, this time around, Lydon focuses his lyrics on themes like his dying mother, excessive violence, and general bitterness towards the world. However, this time around, his vocals are far more understandable, yet carry just as much weight as his shouted rants of earlier days. Pushing the sound to something that is nothing short of phenomenal, the vocal delivery and lyrics brought by John Lydon serve as proof that he was indeed one of the most talented vocalists of his time.

John Lydon has always been an unmistakable part of the world of music, from his appearance to his unique vocal delivery to his trademark sneer. After the Sex Pistols imploded, he quickly sought out a new musical project and found it in the form of Public Image Ltd. Pushing his own abilities to their limits and exploring uncharted musical territory, the bands' sound and style remain largely unmatched to this day. With the sensational combination of Jah Wobble's dub-heavy bass and the extraordinary guitar and keyboard work of Keith Levine, on the music alone, PiL rank among the finest bands of their generation. Paving the way for nearly every post-punk band that followed them, PiL perfectly balanced the angst-ridden temperament of punk with a far darker, more despondent mood. Presenting an undeniably heavy, trudging sound, the music is simply like nothing else ever recorded. Lydon has never sounded better, and his pointed, beat-like vocals are a perfect compliment to the music over which he sings. Though his work with the Sex Pistols largely overshadows his PiL albums, the truth of the matter is, these records were just as revolutionary and have had just as large an impact. Far more experimental and innovative than their debut, Public Image Ltd's follow-up, 1980's Second Edition remains one of the most original and phenomenal albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Memories," "Careering," and "The Suit."

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