The Flowers of Romance (1981) **1/2
Someone once quipped that John Lydon was the master of the influential but unlistenable, and this is one of those discs that is recommended listening for any adventurous music fan if only to try the limits of what you can define as 'listenable' (at least in a pop/rock context). First, let's underline the difference between Metal Box and this followup, third PIL studio album: no Jah Wobble. Charming gent that Mr. Lydon is, he sheds members like a snake its skin, and this time out, he decided not to bother advertising for a replacement bassist. Which means that the, ahem, 'tunes' revolve around Lydon's wailing over Martin Atkin's spare, tribalistic drums (well, how else can the music be described as anything but tribalistic when it consists of mostly drumming and vocal wailing and little else?). Keith Levene is still present, but as a much more muted presence: his contributions consist mostly of keyboard splashes (used as dry and minimalistically as anything else on the record), with his guitar only brought out occasionally as one more minor element of texture. What it, in effect, amounts to is Metal Box II with all the bass parts deleted from the mix and subsequently much less interesting and much, much less danceable. Oh, not that it's not interesting - the music carries the punk minimalist aesthetic to at least one of its logical conclusions: drum'n'voice'n'cheap Casio. The opening track sounds vaguely Arabic in its snakey call-to-prayer vocal wailing, but whether that was intentional or not - scratch me. Maybe these potheads were adding some vinyl from Morocco to their steady diet of dub reggae. The album also contains many stretches of instrumental meandering; perhaps that's why "Banging the Door," leaps out as the most memorable track, as it actually possesses a coherent and memorable vocal melody (chant, actually; I'd be hard to describe much of this music as 'melodic' in the traditional sense). Have a I stressed enough how difficult this music is to get into? If you want to clear a crowded room, this is one of those Top Ten 'Party Clearer' records, at least as far as nominally 'rock' albums are concerned. This is Adam and the Ants' "noble savage drum drum drum" as conceived by John Cage, with all the fun sucked out of it. Too monochromatically grim to take pleasure in the potentially colorful weirdness of the anti-pop concept. As with Metal Box, PIL conjure a dour yet compelling atmosphere and proceed to coast on sheer sound for the entire album without writing any but the barest of 'songs'. But as with most sequels, the quality is considerably inferior. "No fun!" But interesting.