I’ve been diving into my Public Image Ltd. collection. Today I was listening to the album Happy?. This album, as well as featuring mainstay John Lydon on vocals, also features John McGeoch and Lou Edmonds, formerly of the Banshees and The Damned respectively. It’s a strange album. It’s almost as if space aliens made an 80’s pop record.
I really love the first three Public Image albums. Those would be First Issue, Metal Box (also known as Second Edition), and The Flowers of Romance. Don’t make a mistake, if you are not into really bizarre uncomfortable music that is much more about the sound than the songs then you are not going to like these albums. Metal Box is my favorite. I love the super low dub-like bass with the high pitched razor blade guitar playing over it. It’s really unlike anything else in music. I truly believe they were years ahead of their time on these three releases. A lot of Radiohead’s more experimental stuff, and much of new indie music that is on the fringe, pales in comparison to just how weird this stuff is. I’m not saying that negates anything Radiohead or anyone else has done, just simply that in terms of turning pop music inside out, PIL got their first. If you read early fearful interpretations of what punk sounded like, before it became accepted by the mainstream, and you hadn’t heard any of it, this is what you would think it would sound like, not the melodic primitive rock n roll that it was.
I don’t like Public Image Ltd. because they are strange. There is plenty of experimental stuff that just sounds like someone going up their own asshole. Generally as a fan of recorded sound they were doing really interesting groundbreaking stuff. And the thing about it is, really the first two albums as The Flowers of Romance is its own weird trip, it sounds like a band. A lot of times when we hear stuff pushing the parameters of sound now it is studio manipulation. I’m not saying there was none of that on these records, but by and large these were people taking preexisting instruments and playing them in totally unique and interesting ways. Especially in today’s world, when so much is able to be manipulated through computers, it is exciting to me to think about someone like Keith Levene just taking an electric guitar and making it sound otherworldly just in the way he approached it.
Anyway, so I was listening to Happy? today. I can’t say it is a great record. It is not PIL at their best and the keyboard and drum sounds are too 80’s in a way that makes it sound dated, where the first three albums sound outside of time. However, it is still unique in the arrangements, playing, and singing. It’s still just bizarre enough that if you visualize things when you listen to music you can almost picture people inhabiting that strange building that is on the front cover. Again, imagine if aliens had all the technology of an 80’s recording studio, and had seen a little pop music, but didn’t understand it enough to make something that was really human.
If I believed in giving things stars or points, which I don’t, I don’t know how many I’d give it. It is truly a puzzling recording. But there aren’t that many I can say that about. I don’t find it enjoyable in the way that I enjoy most records, but I certainly don’t dislike it either. It is not great or grand, but it has its own little universe all to itself, and that is some kind of accomplishment isn’t it?