Sunday, March 25, 2018

Just One Song - Public Image Limited

Public Image Limited
Flowers of Romance
Flowers of Romance (1981)

The Sex Pistols turned out some decent music over the course of their short, turbulent existence. But in retrospect (and perhaps even back then) they seem more like a gimmick than anything. Public Image Limited were less gimmicky and therefore seem more likely to stand the test of time. Or maybe they'll be totally forgotten in twenty years. Who knows?

I came to PiL a little late in the game, after the release of that film canister one. Then I lost touch with them after the pink and white one with John Lydon's mug on the front (This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get). But hey, what do you know? After taking about 20 years off they did what any self-respecting arena rock band would do. They reformed and released new albums and toured and presumably trotted out their golden oldies and they seem to be still alive and kicking to this very day. Which makes me want to break out my tattered "I Hate PiL" shirt and go spit on people.

But I kid. One must give credit for Lydon for burying his rotten past and not turning his next project into Son of Pistols. Credit is also due for surrounding himself with a gang of musicians who were up to the task of turning post-punk on its ear - Keith Levene (guitar), Jah Wobble (bass) and Martin Atkins (drums), though Wobble had exited stage left by the time of Flowers of Romance and Atkins only played on part of the album.

Much is made of how uncommercial and uncompromising an album Flowers of Romance is. Probably because it's true. Also because it might not have made anyone blink if it was released on an indie label, but it was loosed on the world by a major. Even by the offbeat standards PiL had already set, Flowers of Romance is quite offbeat indeed. It was my first intensive exposure to their music and I was open to anything weird at the time but it took me a while to come around to it.

Listening to the album for the first time in about thirty years a few things jumped out at me. First, this really is an uncommercial album and one that's quite ahead of its time, perhaps even in our time. Drums and vocals dominate, with a few squiggles and miscellaneous drones tossed in for coloring. Lydon's whining and wailing vocals don't do much to win friends and influence record buyers but they are well suited to the music. Much of which is surprisingly catchy, for being so minimal and so far out of left field. It also struck me that I liked it very much and it didn't seem dated. Which I couldn't say for Ministry, which I revisited at the same time and which seemed mired in the Nineties.

But I digress. The high point of all of this floral romance stuff was the single and title track. Which actually made it onto the charts over there in the UK, which is kind of surprising but maybe not so much. Because, at the heart of it all, amongst the ponderous drums and Lydon's caterwauling, is a catchy song. I don't know how you could dance to it but it sure stays stuck in your head for a while.

(Trivia bit) Post-punk legend has it that the drums here provided inspiration for Phil Collin's legendary drum sound - but we'll try not to hold that against Lydon and the gang.

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