Saturday, August 24, 2019

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 that seemed to be lost in the furor of all things Sex Pistol. Public Image Limited were less gimmicky and more likely to stand the test of time. Or maybe they'll be totally forgotten in twenty years.

I came to PiL late in the game, after the release of that film canister album. I lost touch after the pink and white one with Lydon's lovely mug on the front (This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get). But after taking a few decades off they did what any self-respecting arena rock band would do. They reformed and released new albums and toured and presumably played their golden oldies and seem to be alive and kicking to this day. Which makes me want to wear an "I Hate Pil" shirt and spit on people.

But I kid. One must credit Lydon for burying his rotten past and not turning his next project into Son of Pistols. Credit is also due for surrounding himself with 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 was gone by the time of Flowers and Atkins only played on part of the album.

Much is made of how uncompromising an album Flowers of Romance is. Probably because it's true. It might not have made anyone blink if it was released on an indie label, but it was not. Even by Pil's offbeat standards, Flowers of Romance is very strange. It was my first real exposure to their music and I was open to anything weird but it took a while to sink in.

Revisiting it thirty years later, a few things stood out. It's very uncommercial and still ahead of its time. Drums and vocals dominate, with a few squiggles and drones and knick-knacks tossed in for color. Lydon's wailing never did much to win friends and influence record buyers but it is well suited to this music. Which is very catchy, for being so minimal and weird. I still like it and it doesn't seem to have dated much.

The high point of all of this floral romance is the single/title track. Which made it onto the charts over yonder in the UK. Which is surprising but maybe not so much. At the heart of it, amongst the ponderous drums and caterwauling, is a catchy song that stays stuck in your head for a while. Post-punk legend has it that the drums provided inspiration for Phil Collin's legendarily whopping drum sound on his solo albums - but we'll try not to hold that against anyone.

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