Release Date: Oct 28, 2016
Record label: Universal
Out of all the fascinating alternate takes, B-sides, rare compilation-only tracks and never-before-released sketches that comprise this expanded reissue of Public Image Ltd’s post-punk landmark, it’s a live version of “Public Image” that is the real revelation. Part of an impromptu June 1979 concert in Manchester, the song keeps collapsing and restarting. “Shut up!” snaps John Lydon, responding to audience jeers.
How strange it must have seemed to those enamored of the Sex Pistols snotty punk anarchy to find themselves faced with the arty, post-punk of the former Johnny Rotten’s post-Pistols gig, Public Image Ltd. Reverting to his given name and abandoning his sneering, gobbing façade, John Lydon proved with the group’s first several releases to be a far more interesting, open-minded musician than his previous band’s reputation would have let on. Instead of rudimentary, three-chord stompers, the group embraced everything from krautrock to dub to the avant-garde, all shot through with the detached air of post-punk.
To watch him return to the fray in the wake of 2012’s This Is PiL album – the first in 20 years under the Public Image Ltd banner – was to witness the real John Lydon. Or, at least, if not the real John Lydon then certainly where his musical heart really lay. Gone was the hunched and gurning caricature of Johnny Rotten, a hideous amalgam of Richard III and Albert Steptoe, and in his place was someone who was taking himself as seriously as a performer and artist as the music that he was making.
Public Image Ltd., was an excellent exercise in reinvention. No longer rotten, as John Lydon we saw the artist. After a so so debut album with 1978’s First Issue, his second release saw him lay the foundation for a genre for the second time in his then short career. Although he can’t lay claim to releasing the first UK punk single with The Sex Pistols (The Damned beat him with their ’76 classic “New Rose”, he stood out like a sore thumb within the punk scene, educated, opinionated, he was held up as an example of what was wrong (IE right) about the UK in the late ’70’s.
What Johnny did next: Metal Box and Album get the four-disc deluxe treatment. Cynicism ran rife as John Lydon emerged from the cocoon that once housed Sex Pistols iconoclast Johnny Rotten. After all, once you’ve torn down the temple, what do you do for an encore? Many within the prevailing rock establishment had recently found themselves dismissed by Lydon as complacent, redundant, irrelevant ‘old farts’.