Britain was not a nice place to live in 1979. Successive Labour and Conservative governments had done next to nothing to improve the country’s economic woes. This was due to a committed belief in appeasing trade union interests who clearly were not interested in being reasonable or democratic. During The Winter Of Discontent in 1978-1979, the country was in a chaotic state. The public services went on strike and Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan was refusing to acquiesce to their wage demands, leading to things like rubbish piling in the main streets of London. This led to Margaret Thatcher being elected in 1979, who was very much anti-democratic as well, just in a completely different way.
Out of all these turbulent times, came some great music. John Lydon was carving himself up a great solo career, and he was totally feeling the mood of the times. His mother had passed away and The Sex Pistols were a thing of the past. He took one step ahead of his contemporaries and made Second Edition. It was released in 1979 in various forms (such as the Metal Box LPs) but it’s seen as a totally underrated classic today.
There is no midrange on this record. It’s all bass and treble. To be honest, there never has been such deep bass guitar on an analog made recording before. John Lydon has moved on from the anti-singing on The Sex Pistols and instead adopts a vastly different vocal style. It’s repetitive too, but not overwhelmingly so. It is actually bass on a huge array of musical influences that John Lydon dug.
We begin with the Albatross piece. The bassist Jah Wobble consumes the song with the bass, whilst Lydon screams and bemoans urban life. It’s a thrilling listen from the beginning. It goes over 10 minutes, so be patient with this album.
The follow up has John Lydon screaming again in Memories about having such useless memories. It’s deeper than you’d think, with spacey science fiction keyboards, possibly inspired by dub music. He doesn’t sound very happy throughout the record here, which isn’t always a bad thing.
Swan Lake deals directly with the passing of John Lydon’s mother. We can sense the pain and anguish in this song as he deals with internal emotions from the experience. It’s a great and relatively short song. “Words cannot express…” Indeed.
Poptones is catchy enough to have a repeated bass riff going through it that is cool, and John Lydon talks about having a picnic in the British countryside. It’s a good listen.
The follow-up Careering talks directly about the uselessnesses of modern living. John Lydon really does a good job here and stands out as quite possibly the best and most flexible punk singer ever.
The instrumental Socialist is actually not political, apart from the title. It’s a short and funky track with some interesting bass and keyboard textures throughout. Not bad for a piece of its kind.
Graveyard is yet another instrumental, but eerie in its name and textures. It’s not as good as the previous piece before it but is listenable nonetheless.
The Suit is perhaps directly political. It talks about office politics and climbing the company ladder. It’s rather humourous in retrospect and has a brilliant bass riff throughout. Excellent.
The piece afterward Bad Bady has little meaning but is still good listening. By this point, we sense this is a great leftfield and artistic album, for it is enjoyable on that level.
The songy No Birds is a really touching piece vocally. John Lydon sings from an emotional place. You’d think otherwise, especially during The Sex Pistols. The fact is that John Lydon is an underrated and intelligent vocalist. This song is proof of that.
Chant mocks all the street protests and strikes of the time. It should come as no surprise, given the backdrop of the times in the UK. John Lydon humourously rants about the things that people do in street protests. It’s a great social observation. It segues into the next and last piece of the album.
Radio 4 is a keyboard instrumental with a few other textures. It’s nicely done, although not 100% necessary for this recording. By this point, we have finished our rather artistic journey with John Lydon.
Sadly, this album never sold well and contemporaries such as Joy Division were in the spotlight more than these guys. It was too arty for the mainstream. But hold it right there, it’s not rubbish at all. In fact, John Lydon came as an artistic power with this recording. It has inspired many musicians who dug the deep bass guitar lines, trebly electric guitar, precise drum rolls, and haunting vocal imagery. John Lydon is still making music with PiL. But this is his finest effort with the group. It’s worth checking out if you are craving something just a little bit different.