What Were They Thinking?! PiL's "Album" (1986)!


In all my years of listening to music, there are few weirder, more potentially misguided albums than Public Image Ltd's, 1986 album, Album, which, depending on the format, is also known as Cassette or Compact Disc.

Truth be told, as a fan of PiL's first three studio albums, it was difficult to accept what the band had become by the time 1984's This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get was released.  By then, key founding members Keith Levene and Jah Wobble were no longer with the band and Johnny Lydon was clearly out of ideas.

So when I read the liner notes for Album and saw the names Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tony Williams and Ginger Baker, I stood incredulous, unable to imagine how this combination of musicians could logically contribute anything of substance to a Johnny Lydon project.

What kind of career suicide was Lydon, up to, I wondered?



Out of a sick, twisted, morbid curiosity, I gave the album a listen and within ten seconds of dropping the needle on "FFF", all of my worries melted away.  Ginger Baker attacked his drums with feet and fists of monolithic fury, drowning out the old school punk fans yelling "Sell out!"

Producer Bill Laswell was solely responsible for putting this line-up together, creating a number of musical tracks that he hoped Lydon would like.  If Lydon passed, Laswell thought, he'd just keep the tracks for his next record.

Laswell's name had been vaguely familiar to anyone who read Musician magazine religiously and made note of the ever-prolific band Material, of which Laswell was a member, but nothing could have prepared me for the bone-jarring crunch of his in-your-face production.  That he'd been instrumental in Herbie Hancock's success with "Rock-It" had been of no direct consequence to me. That the same guy was capable for that techno tomfoolery and this swinging rock juggernaut still astounds me.

Even now, knowing so much more about Laswell's involvement in the NYC no-wave scene, I am still not quite able to wrap my head around this unlikely combination of players that he assembled.

Lydon's genius, of course, was in knowing a good thing when Laswell played him the tapes.  Even now, I get a shiver down my spine listening to "Rise" unfold like an origami sunset while the rest of the album harnesses the gathered players' immense power to create something with the same sense of danger and discovery as that first Pistols album.  That this sound was coming from some very un-punk sources was of no concern to Lydon, or to me.



Baker's drumming is the real star of the album and well worth the price of admission as he digs some of the heaviest knee-deep grooves this side of a Led Zep record.  Thankfully, Vai's guitar playing is straightforward and to the point, with a minimum of "Hey, look at me!" noodling.

Most importantly, Lydon is at his most venomous throughout, snarling his way through the album with a renewed vigor that allowed this PiL fan to wash the taste of This Is What You Want... out of my ears.

To this day, when I need a dose of PiL, this is the album I reach for because, all things considered, this is Johnny Lydon at his absolute, unapologetic best.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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