John Lydon, a k a Johnny Rotten, has returned to the studio with his post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Ltd., a k a PiL, for the group’s first new album in 20 years, “This is PiL,” set for May 28 release.
Four of the dozen tracks that make up the album will be issued on an EP slated for national Record Store Day on April 21, ahead of the full collection. PiL reunited at the end of 2009 to play its first shows in 17 years, and returned to U.S. soil for the first time the following spring at the 2010 Coachella music festival.
“Well, 12 songs, where do I begin?” Lydon said of the new album in a statement issued Thursday. “Everything and anything that attracts my attention. ‘One Drop’ is about my early youth in Finsbury Park. Fantastic! Hello, we’re all teenagers don’t you forget it! At any age, stay young.
“ ‘Lollipop Opera’ is basically a beautiful bunch of background noise and music to sum up Britain and all its wonderful ambidextrousness! ‘The Room I Am In’ well that’s about drugs and council flats,” Lydon’s statement continued. “And there’s a tragedy that still continues. ‘I Must Be Dreaming’ well, you know, I must be to put up with these governments.”
The lineup on the new album includes two musicians who joined PiL in 1986 — Lu Edmonds, multi-instrumentalist and former guitarist with the Damned, and drummer Bruce Smith from the Pop Group and the Slits — along with the band's latest addition, bassist Scott Firth, who has played with Steve Winwood and Elvis Costello.
Lydon, who has lived for many years in California at the beach near Venice, formed PiL in the wake of the 1978 implosion of the Sex Pistols, taking a 90-degree musical turn from assaultive punk rock into dark and moody, often expansive explorations that relied heavily on the interplay among the musicians. It was a template that influenced subsequent doom-and-gloom bands including Joy Division, New Order, the Smiths and the Cure, and even more latter-day bands such as LCD Soundsystem.
"Imitation really is not the sincerest form of flattery," Lydon said in 1984 when PiL came through Southern California on tour. "We're not selfish about any of that, but it's really annoying and insulting to listen to an album by someone else and know they've taken all your ideas and are claiming them to be [their] own."
At that time he also predictably expressed his intention to remain unpredictable.
“We get enough [hardcore punk fans] to keep it interesting,” Lydon said. “But there’s no fun in appealing continually to the converted, so it's very nice to see such an odd diversity [at PiL shows]. That’s what makes it so damn relevant, because it is so varied. At some of the gigs we get what look like college professors with beards — obviously in their 40s, from the hippie period — and they’re pogoing in tweed suits. It’s hysterical good fun.”
He also had great fun invoking the name of the Carpenters — a group at the polar opposite of the pop music spectrum from the Sex Pistols or PiL — in making a point about the importance of openmindedness when it comes to music.
“I see no reason why I shouldn’t like the Dead Kennedys and the Carpenters,” he said. “They’re both valid.”
-- Randy Lewis