Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

The real dark side of rock and roll begins here. This group of young men with singer Ian Curtis made dark and scary look awesome. They were a favoured cult sort of band until Ian Curtis’s suicide. Their influence is still broad and wide today in the rock world.

The music here is brilliant. It paints a sort of apocalyptic environment and sounds mega dark. Let’s give this a look, track by track.

Disorder begins our dark journey. And it’s very heavy, both musically and lyrically. A great start to one of the greatest recordings of all time. It specifically talks about relationship issues. A good listen. Some nice synth sounds are here as well.

Day Of The Lords arrives. It’s the closest these guys got to heavy metal. It rocks and sounds awesome all the way through. There is a large Black Sabbath style of phrasing in the guitar work. An excellent listen here. Everything fits here perfectly. Ian Curtis’s baritone voice expresses urgency at the end, an interesting twist to the song itself.

The following song called Candidate is a more typical piece from Joy Division. It has some pseudo-Industrial music sounds and some dark, introspective lyrics. The bassline here is quite prominent, but there is plenty of room for the rest of the song to breathe. Not a bad effort.

After that Insight arrives. It starts off with the sound of the elevator in the recording studio being activated by Ian Curtis, then launching into a rather lyrically disturbing song. Indeed, Ian Curtis had an undiagnosed mental health disorder of some sort, and this is reflected in the music here. The sound effects are interesting here.

New Dawn Fades is a very lonely and miserable sounding piece. It flows very well. It launches into the song with lyrics such as, “A loaded gun won’t set you free.” Disturbing all right, but still very good. If you dig dark melancholy, give this a listen.

She’s Lost Control begins with some awesome electronic drum sounds, and then some delayed and unusual vocals and lyrics from Ian Curtis. It’s about perception, either the narrator or the lady involved has lost control. It’s a freaky concept nonetheless.

The next song Shadowplay begins with a bassline, before launching into a rocky number. The band obviously had a lot of musical ideas on their albums, and this is by no means different. It’s a good listen. The ending especially is great.

After that, Wilderness arrives. The bassline drives this number and sounds very rhythmic and catchy. It’s obvious that Joy Division placed careful attention to each of their individual songs during their career. This one is about travel, a nice little number indeed.

Interzone is an uptempo rock sort of number. It is an interesting piece about going around in the city. It’s enjoyable to listen to and has some great guitar playing here. This is a great album for sure.

I Remember Nothing is a long and extended piece. But it’s never dull. In fact, there are some dark and interesting elements to this song. It features a lot of trippy sort of sounds, including glass being broken. It’s a great way to end this dark and excellent listen.

This album was critically well-received, and since has become a cult classic over time. It’s the definitive album that is a hybrid of punk, and the styles of bands that came afterward, such as The Cure. A great listen, one of the greatest albums of all time.

9/10

Public Image Ltd. – The Flowers Of Romance (1981)

Public Image lost Jah Wobble, their bassist after the release of Second Edition. He went off for an ordinary life driving trains for a while. Stumped, John Lydon thought of a way to go on. So,  in response, this album has no bass guitar on it.

Having said that, this album is still really very good. It is still up to a great standard of John Lydon, and is a great listen.

We begin with Four Enclosed Walls, with its unusual intro and John Lydon chanting and wailing away. It then leads into a very catchy drum part and subtle instrumentation. It’s a great way to kick off this album, and sounds very artistic.

The follow up, Track 8 is a strangely named piece. It seems a lot more mellow and laidback, even sounding Syd Barrett-ish somehow. It seems like a weaker track though, and this album seems like a step back in cohesiveness overall.

Phenagen has a very strange musical arrangement, with music that would not be anywhere far from voodoo witch doctor music. John Lydon sings very well here, and shows that even so-called punk rockers can carry a song and melody, no matter what you think of their ability to do so.

Flowers Of Romance is next up, with its elastic drum beat and a multitude of experimental sounds to boot. It has John Lydon questioning the decisions that one makes, peaking in the chorus and has some psychedelic edge to it. A brilliant song, and surely a mockery of romance itself? Who knows.

The next piece up, Under The House, has a super long intro. It’s a bit weaker, but still satisfying enough to listen to. It seems like a freaky sort of song, because it probably is. This album is certainly Leftfield for sure, if you know what I mean.

After that, we hear an unusual drum led piece called Hymie’s Him. It is an instrumental, but a poor instrumental at that. It lacks structure and is all over the place. Still, it fits on the album nicely though.

Banging The Door has John Lydon telling people nicely, to place their problems elsewhere. It is a great statement, and continues Problems by The Sex Pistols thematically. It’s a good tune though.

Go Back is the real track 8. This is difficult to make of the purpose of the song, with John Lydon singing lyrics about impressionist style values. It is a random piece for sure.

The last one on the album, Francis Massacre, is really quite good. Without a load of different instrumentation, sounds and chanting, it’s a good way to end this album. John Lydon has really improved as a singer at this point, and sings this album very well.

There are many remastered reissues of this album with a few extra cuts which were recorded around this time. Is this the best PiL album? It quite possibly is. It is a pure statement of artistry by the group and John Lydon. It blows away the bad synth pop which was arising at the time. It is a very underrated album, and deserves listening.

9/10

Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition (1979)

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.

8/10

Public Image Ltd. – Public Image: First Issue (1978)

The Sex Pistols officially ended in January 1978 when Johnny Rotten had enough of Malcolm McLaren’s intervention in both the music and image of The Sex Pistols. At the last concert of The Sex Pistols in San Francisco, Johnny Rotten put the question: “Have you ever felt like you’ve been cheated?” to the audience. Indeed, he was asking an honest question. He left The Sex Pistols immediately to carve out his own musical journey.

The other members of The Sex Pistols did not fare so well. Sid Vicious disgraced himself with a murder-suicide act, Steve Jones became a heroin addict in the 1980s and Paul Cook did nothing special. Glen Matlock licked his wounds as well. Johnny Rotten dropped the stage name and went back to being John Lydon and went on a brief break whilst carving out more intellectual musical territory.

He teamed up with various individualistic and quality pseudo-punk musicians of the time and recorded new songs. The result here is the Public Image: First Issue album. It’s not even their best as John Lydon’s group, but it’s a very good beginning to a much more varied musical palette.

So beginning with Theme, it’s actually a piece about the parody of melancholy and bad feelings. To be honest, it’s good that it is a parody piece, otherwise, it would be awful. John Lydon of new still had the ability to see through human stupidity, after all. It’s one of the worst tracks on the album, but we can see past that as it is John Lydon finding his feet.

Straight afterwards we hear the spoken word Religion I. It reveals John Lydon as a mock preacher, delivering a sermon for atheists and the anti-religious. Close listening reveals that it is calling out the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church more than anything else.

Religion II is the song version of the spoken word piece and has John Lydon screaming “This is religion!” in a furious manner. It’s a good piece and his tone and singing are awesome. Only early Liam Gallagher came close to the legendary Johnny Rotten singing voice.

Annalisa is cheerful rubbish. It’s hard to decipher any meaning about this song but it’s at least danceable. Not really that good a track. Worth skipping if you can.

The main track Public Image has John Lydon laying everything bare. It is so honest in its dealing with the realities of being The Sex Pistols superstar that it questions whether or not it was worth it. It’s a post-John Lennon confessional and did okay in the singles charts.

The follow-up Low Life points out to a person who fits the criteria, although not mentioning anyone specifically. It lacks originality but it’s a good listen.

Attack begins with John Lydon hocking a loogie, before rushing into a sonic audio assault. It sounds a little weak musically but still better than some of the other songs here.

Fodderstompf is a long and artistic parody of the hippie based music scene that had been around for some time. “We only wanted to be loved” is repeated many times, and John Lydon uses his unique voice to change between accents in the mockery of such hippie based cultural values.

To be fair, this isn’t the greatest album ever made. But it’s quintessential for fans of the master of punk Johnny Rotten and mixes trebly guitars, dub style bass lines, attacking drums and punk vocals on it. It’s a good intro to Public Image Ltd. without being a great one. The next album afterwards was their best, but this one still has its place. Worth seeking out if you enjoyed Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

7/10