Public Image Ltd. (PiL for short) are a Post-Punk
band (and possibly an Ur Example
of the genre/aesthetic) formed by John Lydon in 1978 after his departure from the Sex Pistols
, a move that freed him to pursue his interest in experimental music, dub, prog rock and various other types of music that were non grata
in the world of late 70's Punk Rock
that the Pistols had helped cultivate. The group has gone through a bewildering range of changes of personnel
and musical styles
, and occasional hiatuses, and at this point effectively consists of Lydon
and whoever else is in the band at the moment.
The group has at various points included, among others, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene (founder members), Ginger Baker
, Steve Vai, and Magazine
's John McGeogh.
The band split in 1992, and Lydon attempted a solo career (that only resulted in a single album, Psycho's Path
, which bombed) and then reunited The Sex Pistols
. In 2009, Lydon reunited PiL with a lineup consisting of Lydon, former members Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Firth. A new album, This is PiL
, was issued in May 2012.
- First Issue (1978)
- Metal Box (1979)
- Second Edition (1980) (reissue of Metal Box without the elaborate packaging)
- The Flowers of Romance (1981)
- This is What You Want...This Is What You Get (1984)
- Album (1986, also called Compact Disc and Cassette depending on the format)
- Happy? (1987)
- 9 (1989)
- That What is Not (1992)
- This is PiL (2012)
- Album Filler: Lampshaded for "Fodderstompf":
"We only wanted to finish the album with the minimum amount of effort
Which we are now doing very successful-ly"
- Alternative Rock
- Anti-Love Song: Averted with "This Is Not A Love Song", which is more of a double-edged Take That at the music biz and fans accusing Lydon of selling out. Probably.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Some of the band's members gained this reputation, not helped by an Urban Legend that alleged one of them tried to set The Fall's drummer Karl Burns on fire during a recording session.
- Double Meaning Title: The title Second Edition fits this trope on several levels. It's the group's second album, it's the second edition of the album (originally released as a set of 12" singles in a metal film canister as Metal Box), and it's the second edition of the band itself (with original drummer Jim Walker replaced by a variety of session players).
- Epic Rocking:
- First Issue: "Theme" is 9:13, and "Fodderstompf" is 7:46.
- Metal Box/Second Edition: "Albatross" is 10:32, and "Poptones" is 7:46.
- B-side "Home is Where the Heart is" is 7:34.
- Album: "Ease" is 8:09.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Album, aka Compact Disc or Cassette, depending on the format.
- Flowers of Romance: The Trope Namer. John Lydon named the song after a band his sometime friend Sid Vicious had led before joining the Sex Pistols, which itself took its name from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal ("the flowers of evil"). "Flowers Of Romance" deals with an imminent breakup:
Behind the dialogue
We're in a mess
Whatever I intended
I sent you flowers
You wanted chocolates instead
The flowers of romance
The flowers of romance.
- Greatest Hits Album: The Greatest Hits, So Far, which had a chronological track-listing (covering 1978 through 1990), and featured one new song, "Don't Ask Me".
- Green Aesop: "Don't Ask Me"
- Grief Song: "Death Disco", aka "Swan Lake" is about the death of Lydon's mother. This may not be immediately obvious.
- Hidden Depths: People were surprised to find that Johnny Rotten is a fan of Prog Rock.
- "I Am" Song: "Public Image"
- I Am the Band: Following Levene's expulsion, Lydon took over as de facto band leader and the only constant member.
- Insistent Terminology: Public Image Ltd. isn't a band, it's a communications company.
- It's Been Done: Flipper came out with a "generic album" before PiL did. Flipper released an album called Public Flipper Ltd. as a Take That.
- Madness Mantra: "We only wanted to be loved" from "Fodderstompf".
- "This is what you want, this is what you get" from "The Order of Death".
- The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: Lydon likes playing with this trope. A lot.
- Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: Subverted in "Like That" (aka "Just Like A Woman"), with the "Just like a woman/and every man" refrain.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: First Issue is fairly straight(ish) punk/new wave, except for two longer, strung-out experimental pieces, "Theme" and "Fodderstompf". These turned out to be better indicators for the next few albums, especially Metal Box, than any of the more "accessible" tracks. Around This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get, the sound took a turn for the more "commercial", to variable fan-reaction, and has changed again a few times since. Lydon has cited Yoko Ono, Can, and Van Der Graaf Generator among his influences.
- New Sound Album:
- Flowers of Romance dropped the metallic guitars and thick basslines in favour of Peter Gabriel 3-inspired percussion and aural chaos.
- This is What You Want, This is What You Get was a dance and pop record.
- Album began a more accessible, Alternative Rock era.
- This is PiL returns to the Dub and Krautrock-inspired sound of their early records.
- Nobody Loves the Bassist: Averted by Jah Wobble, recognized as one of the most distinctive bass players in rock.
- Punny Name: The band name is not just a dig at Lydon's post-Pistols image (and an oblique reference to Muriel Sparks' novel The Public Image), but also plays up the "band as corporate entity" angle, also featured in a tendency to Heavy Meta ("Poptones", "Chant", "Death Disco" etc.) and naming records so as to lampshade their status as product (First Issue, Second Edition aka Metal Box, Album)
- Revolving Door Band: Lydon has been the only constant member. Played for Laughs with "We are a company" as a justification.
- Religion Rant Song: Heavily featured in the early work ("Religion I", "Religion II", "Annalisa").
- Ridiculous Procrastinator: The first lineup of the band had this reputation, much to the exasperation of their record company. Walker once mentioned that Wobble used to call Lydon's flat so often he assumed that Wobble lived far away, until one day Wobble walked into the flat and Walker found out he was actually living a few floors below but was too lazy to actually show up in person.
- Sampling: A loop of John Lydon singing "no future", taken from the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen", shows up near the end of "Acid Drops". And one extended remix of "The Body" uses the oft-sampled drum machine beat of Schoolly D's "PSK (What Does It Mean?)".
- Self-Deprecation: From "Fodderstompf": "We only wanted to finish the album with a minimum amount of effort, which we are now doing very successfully!"
- Shout Outs: Include The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ("Albatross") and Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci ("No Birds")
- Spoken Word in Music: Lydon recites the words to "The Room I Am In".
- Suburbia/Stepford Suburbia: "No Birds"
This could be heaven
Shallow spreads of ordered lawns
I like the illusion, illusion of privacy
The careful trees blending so perfectly
Bland planned idle luxury
A caviar of perfect dignity
Life in lovely allotted slots
A token nice, a nice constitution
A layered mass of subtle props
- Take That: It's a band led by Johnny Lydon. A lot of things and people get on his nerves. The music industry ("This Is Not A Love Song"), religion (see Religion Rant Song), Seattle and its hotels ("Seattle"), Lou Reed ("Where Are You"), broadsheet newspapers ("Chant"), George H.W. Bush ("U.S.L.S.1"), intrusive fans ("Banging The Door"). Every so often, for variety, he has a go at himself, too. And quite a few songs are Take Thats taken to a level of abstraction where you're definitely sure he's having a go at something or someone, even if you're not sure exactly what or whom.
- A Touch of Class, Ethnicity and Religion: Something of a running theme, especially in the early work, rather unsurprisingly given Lydon's Irish Catholic London working class background. Expect digs at the Catholic Church (see also Religion Rant Song, above), and the British class system. On Metal Box, "Careering" and "The Suit" come with a side of Ambition Is Evil, while "No Birds", "Chant" and "Careering" (again) make digs at the middle classes. (From "Chant": "It's not important/it's not worth a mention in The Guardian... the likes of you and me are an embarrassment". From "Careering": "Both sides of the river/there is bacteria".)
- "Careering" is an odd example in that the lyrics have two levels of meaning, as indicated by the dual definition of the title word (working professionally in something vs. wandering aimlessly): One being the class critique, the other being about the IRA's bombing campaign in Northern Ireland.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Quite a few bits, notably the Muriel Spark reference in the band name, and the way "Careering" plays on the double meaning of its title.
- We Used to Be Friends: A recurring lyrical theme, even if it seems mostly to be a subtrope of JL's fondness for Take Thats in general ("Disappointed", "FFF" ["Farewell, my Fairweather Friend"]note , "Albatross"note )