Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #230 - PiL, "This is PiL"

All this punk regurgitation and appraisal on BBC Four at the moment may be due in part to the binding together in the British consciousness of the words Jubilee and the band The Sex Pistols, but if gives a chance to see more of the malevolent shine in the young Johnny Rotten's eyes on TV, then thumb me up, brother.

PiL were great, stepping very far ahead of the game, cutting their edges while they were cutting their teeth. John Lydon's tremulous voice and aching heart and burning intellect coming together and setting everything alight. Where are the working class voices coming out of pop music nowadays? Would I recognise if I saw them? Maybe I'm too sucked into a Jeremy Kyle vision of the poor and the working classes, not even seeing them as "working" any longer? And proud of myself for doing so; like the cunt that would make me.

England and London are the locus of his focus. On "Human" he sings how he misses the English roses and "our many-mannered ways" and "playing on bombsites", bewails (literally) that "England has died". He announces that he is from London on the second track "One Drop", rooting his chaotic irrepressible nature there whilst simultaneously saying they could be born anywhere. The track reminds me of Manu Chao. "Reggie's Song" has him singing about the Garden of Eden (his home in Los Angeles perhaps?) and Finsbury Park. He even sings a Sartrean song based on "The Room I Am In" while the music slinks around behing him like murky lizards.

"School was always torture here/Derison turns to rage/Because I'm human." His scars are pretty livid, it seems, because he continues to pick at them. He is still kicking at the class system, the education systems that had left him to rot. The emotional tenure is matched by the music, which is a kind of middle-aged version of the sound that PiL made thirty-five years ago. Similar to the sounds that dEUS were making in parts on the album I was listening to earlier today. There's a millenial dread lurking in the bass, but it's smoother and somehow comfortable. Not like the raw nerves and organs of "Death Disco" back in 1978.

Some of the lyrics are a bit too playful, repetitive or based on moving the same few words/syllables about in narrow patterns (like "Lollipop Opera" or "This is PiL") for my liking. But no-one's going to lose any sweat over that, least of all me. The sound is big and a little well-rounded to really get my goat pumping; but maybe I've too narrow a musical fetish to hold that up as a criticism. It reads thematically like an old Londoner returning and kicking over the rubble of what's changed and what's disappeared with a peculiar mix of anger and indifference. "This is my culture/I am no vulture."

Rating: Middle-Aged Beacon out of Lost London

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