Thursday, June 7, 2012

PiL - This is PiL

It surprised the hell out of me the other day, when I was working my shift in the Barnes and Noble music section, to discover a newly released Public Image Ltd. album in one of the boxes I was unpacking. The artwork was garishly bright and seemed like an odd choice but as soon as I got off work I looked it up on Rhapsody and discovered that despite having some strangely incongruous album art, PiL had some good new material. 

Now, my favorite PiL album is "Metal Box" and this is no metal box but overall, I enjoyed it. Starting out with some general comments, Lydon's voice does sound a bit more strained but it's been 20 years so I can certainly forgive him. As I've said, it's not as dark and experimental as some PiL material. He keeps it relatively light. The difference in sound is probably due to time and personnel changes. It's still very much PiL though, even though Jah Wobble still hasn't returned.
Title track, "This is PiL", bugged the hell out of me at first. It sounded like a naively headstrong hip-hop artist trying to pimp his crew and act cool. Lots of posturing. But then I realized after listening more that it's very true to Lydon's character. It's very manic sounding, like a crazy homeless guy screaming his lungs out at passersby at dirty, dilapidated bus-stop he's managed to take over. This is not a slight at Lydon. He has this ability explode with an uncontainable energy that will look loony to some people who don't dig PiL or post-punk; however, to me and many others, it's something to be admired.

"Human" is also a resounding success. Lydon waxes poetic about England and how he misses the way things used to be. That's kind of a brave thing for a punk to do, especially the punk who started out his career singing "Anarchy in the UK". Some of the best lyrics in the song:

It's like looking across the great divide
Trapped in a class system
It's pushed you all aside
All to the left, all to the right 

So Lydon manages to get nostalgic while acknowledging the past's problems at the very same time. Not to gush TOO much but who else can do that? Not a whole lot of people. 

There is one song that is awful, terrible, garbage though. It was a song that would not play for the longest time on my Rhapsody account. I had to find it on YouTube to make my experience complete and I almost wish I hadn't. "Lollipop Opera" goes a little too far for me into "non-rapper trying to rap" territory (think Anthony Kiedis). Maybe it will grow on me but it's hard to think it will with a title that sounds like it was chosen by Jeffree Star.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Jandek pt. 2

Now that Summer Fest is over I am officially back on my Jandek kick. I am doing another Jandek review medley for you today that should be helpful for anyone who is overwhelmed by his gigantic discography.

Glasgow Sunday
Many of the albums I'll be reviewing today are live ones. This, if I'm not mistaken, is Jandek's first recorded live performance and it is probably his first ever live public performance. It gets a little confusing because there also happens to be a "Glasgow Monday" as well as "Glasgow Friday" and it's not clear to me if Monday and Friday are in the same, next, or previous week. Anyway, on this one Jandek is joined by a bassist and drummer while he sings and plays a jangling discordant electric guitar. Like all of the live guitar albums that will follow, the listener will notice that the vocals are now far lower and far more guttural than the soft, high, pitches of early classics "Six and Six", or "Ready for the House". Highlights of the album are "Blue Blue World" and "Real Wild". This set up will define many of the live albums.

Glasgow Friday
Similar to Sunday. Possibly all the same musicians. Full of great songs. "These Kokomos" is probably the coolest track on here. Jandek takes a relatively stable drum and bass beat and spackles the spaces with a thin, wiry, funk. Rhythmically, it turns into something you could almost dance to. The real fun starts with the lyrics, however. "They shake me up, theeeeeeese Kokomooooooos! I explode! OOOOOOH! [. . .] I'm wallllking on Maynarrrd Street but these Kokomos didn't understand!" It sounds a bit more soulful than I'm accustomed to hearing and if I were there I definitely would be doing some serious head-banging. What are Kokomos, you ask? Fuck if I know. It's all part of some sort of vaguely discernible narrative though.

Maze of the Phantom
This one was released in 2012 and it is way different than anything I've ever heard. If I had to compare it to something else in the discog I might say it reminds me of "Where do you go from here" in the sense that it is very calm compared to "classic" Jandek but it still retains that extremely mysterious aura. 

The instrumentation seems to be cello, harp, synth, and operatic female vocals sung in an Eastern scale. I assume Jandek is probably playing the synth but it's hard to know more than that. If you're expecting Khartoum or guitar-hero Jandek then you'll find it anti-climactic but if you listen closely and relax you'll be able to appreciate its sombre beauty. And for once, the title of the album somehow seems to fit.