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On asking whether the new PIL album was due this week I was met with a chorus of disapproval from colleagues who had heard and been horrified by the (now mysteriously missing) promo CD. Yet, the reviews of this first album in donkey's years have been fairly ecstatic. So what is the truth? Sort of somewhere in between, the album is no disaster yet it is at points sorely lacking in inspiration and Lydon's now theatrical croon grates throughout.
The opening 'This is PIL' has Lydon ranting the title over and over again like a crazy man but if you can cope with his neo-obnoxious voice, this is the best musical statement on the record with its (yup) Wobble like bassline and eerie guitars. Similarly 'One Drop' uses choppy reggae rhythms although a little polished. 'Deeper Water' has a Morricone-esque twang to the guitars and burst into an almost singalong chorus. 'Terra-Gate' isn't bad at all but could do with a grittier production - Lydon's voice is way on top with the band seemingly an afterthought chugging away at the bottom of the mix.
From there things get a little more worrying - 'Human' and 'I Must Be Dreaming' both manage to sound like a limp Happy Mondays but 'The Room I Am In' is an odd soundscape with spoken word vocals. It's to Lydon's credit that he can manage to both be a reality TV 'celebrity' and make music this unpalatable - 'Lollipop Opera' mixes low-end dubstep bass with a more scatting vocal. I'd prefer more of Lydon sitting his voice within the music 'Metal Box' style rather than the over-the-top crooning.
Knowing when to be quiet is a vital gift in the art of making music and this album, despite a few stellar moments, has the feel of a workmanlike band ploughing away with Lydon way, way too omnipresent.
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- This Is PiL by Public Image Limited
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