Album Reviews

Public Image Ltd – End Of World

(PiL Official) UK release date: 11 August 2023

John Lydon and co return with an 11th album that ranges from fine-fettle rollicking to notable poignancy 

Public Image Ltd - End Of World If clairvoyants and oracles were real, there’d be proper proof. Instead of telling us that Brazil would win another World Cup, or that there’d be further conflict in the Middle East, if just one seer in 1977 had said “You know that Johnny Rotten? One day he’ll ask to do Eurovision with a soft croon about love and loss” the Society for Psychical Research would have a billion members today.

Of course, Public Image Ltd were not successful in their bid to present Ireland in Liverpool this year with Hawaii, and it’s not the sort of thing liable to win the contest in the 21st century (although it can’t have fared worse than the tedious bluster of the Kelly-green Keane they did send), but the song remains a tiny gem, and closes End Of World, their 11th studio album. For those of us used to John Lydon the trickster imp, it’s a surprisingly sincere song, with glistening guitar and an undulating bass softly ebbing and flowing like waves lapping a calm shore, the line “remember me, I’ll remember you” landing especially poignantly once you know the song is about Lydon’s wife Nora who lived with Alzheimer’s. Nora died in April, and the album is dedicated to her memory.

The intimacy of Lydon’s vocal on Hawaii isn’t repeated on the album, which is full of his familiar trademarked style where stentorian pronouncements teeter at the edge of becoming a yelp, like an ironic carnival barker, or a muppet doing high priest cosplay. Lydon sounds cracking for the most part, but the music is rather less consistent. The album starts with the pirate-rock romp of Penge, and if the relevance of that part of south London to a lyric about harbours and longships is a mystery, the song rollocks along in fine fettle, as does Car Chase, a glam disco stomp – “a smash and grab of a song” as Lydon puts it – about a mental institution resident escaping and going on minor nocturnal sprees.

But there’s rather too much uninspired vamping on the album, and tracks that sound half-finished: the title track has a doughty Thin Lizzy guitar line, but it’s tethered to an unedifying and dumpy rock rhythm, and Down On The Clown (nothing to do with circus fellatio, incidentally) is similarly lead-footed. There’s nothing hugely wrong with this, but it’s a long way from the paranoid, febrile dub skirmishes of the majestic Metal Box, or even the stadium fist-pump of mid-’80s hit Rise.

Being Stupid Again has a strong groove, with a phased guitar sliding io and out of focus, as if a wasp circling your picnic were playing How Soon Is Now, but is let down by the lyrics, all about students espousing left-wing causes. People, especially iconoclastic anti-stars like Lydon, should be able to ridicule whatever part of society they want, but it has to be interesting. Only the pronouncement “All maths is racist!” has any satiric bite here, unlike repeating “Ban the bomb” in a silly voice, which is just mildly embarrassing. The real message comes out near the track’s end, the Daily Express mantra of “I’m not paying for that” – if anger is an energy, then snide moans about public expenditure would barely power a glimpse of your commemorative Sex Pistols NFT.

On an album where ex-Pistols are labelled “liars, fakes, cheats and frauds” Lydon is beginning to resemble Morrissey, harping on old grievances and a nebulous social malaise – it’s hilarious how much Lydon sounds like one of Mark Heap’s self-important windbag characters when he announces “Your ignorance shall be your fall from grace” at the start of Walls. There’s material on this album that’s fun, from the bouncy Blondie backing vocals on Pretty Awful, to the yob jazz of Dirty Mucky Delight, but it’s hard to make a case for most of it being essential listening. Apparently, Nora loved the album. Actually, that’s probably justification enough.

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