Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Public Image Limited - This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get

This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get (1984) *1/2

I'm almost tempted to award bonus points for blunt honesty.  With Keith Levene departing prior to the sessions, of the original core creative trio only Johnny remains - from here on out PIL are essentially the John Lydon Experience.  And though Rotten does play a few keyboards and synth bass on the album, he is still for all purposes a non-musician - he's admitted that working with the faceless studio musicians amounted to,  "me giving orders and them receiving them. There was no feedback. If I had a crap idea, the crap idea would go on to vinyl almost directly!"  In the realm of art, honesty is no saving grace, unless you count Lydon's continued ability to annoy excruciatingly - in that case, this album is a masterpiece!  Most immediately audible annoyance: the horn section, which sounds all at once tinny, squawky, sour, and synthesized.  And those damn horns are splattered annoyingly over almost every single track.  It's the aural equivalent of recording your own farts and then punching them into the mix at random intervals.   Some of these songs would've been passably OK if not for the horn punctuations.  A hornless "This is Not a Love Song," proved that theorem a year earlier as a U.K. hit; you just had to re-record it without Levene and ruin it, didn't you?  Likewise, the anti-child abuse, "Tie Me to the Length of That," sounds like it could've drifted in from the previous album if not for the horns, and in this context the spare, "The Pardon," which consists of little more than drums and chant, comes as a relief from the oppressive brass section.  Not that it's still crap, but at least it doesn't have synthesized horns.  And there's problem #2 - as Lydon possesses no innate musical skills, nor a strong collaborator to help with that side of things, the dance-poppy songs are seriously underwritten - mostly repetitive chants that hang loosely on clip-cloppy drums and Lydon't trademark granny-cat mewls.  And irritatingly enough, just when you're ready to write the entire album off as a complete waste of tape, comes the final track, "Order of Death," a quasi-instrumental that's - well, I wouldn't quite call it a gloomy, spacey post-punk "masterpiece", but is an excellent track that by no means deserves the company of the rest of the album.

P.S.  Most of the tracks that wound up on this album were originally recorded with Keith Levene, but after his departure, those tracks were re-recorded with Levene's guitar parts erased like a Stalinist photo purge.  Levene released his own version of this album entitled Commercial Zone, which consists of those early demos.  I have no interest whatsoever in listening to or reviewing that, but maybe the 3 or 4 PIL fanatics out there might care.  But then again, if you are indeed a PIL fanatic, you are already aware of this information, and thus my input is useless.  Much like this album.

Here, take the original 1983 single version of "This is Not a Love Song," before the horns ruined it.

Now compare and disgust:

 I apologize for making you listen to that same song twice. Is this better?

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