To say that John Lydon's reputation precedes him would be quite the understatement. But which of his reputations looms most large in 2011? That's more up for debate.
King Punk has recently been touring the world with a reformed version of Public Image Limited, the post-Pistols pioneers who changed the face of both British alternative music and the perception of its mouthpiece in the late '70s and way beyond. But it's inarguable that in recent years Lydon's most prominent public role has been in rather less cerebral circumstances:
And not so long before…
Wonderful as it was watching the anarchist argue over reality TV rice rations with Kerry Katona, it's slightly concerning to think that a new generation of music lovers' first impressions of one of the most influential figures in UK rock history would have been based on such jungle shenanigans. Or on him being chased by a herd of cows before pasting spreadables on a slice of toast.
So, when he entered the studio with PiL for the first time in 20 years earlier this year, it's not a stretch to assume that he did so with intentions more wide-reaching than simple artistic expression. He had been moaning to the press about not having enough money for the project. The public were not crying for an expansion of PiL's already formidable back catalogue.
Perhaps the greatest thing a new PiL album could do for Lydon is to wrestle the public's eyes from the still-enduring image of him petting lizards alongside the back pages cast of OK! magazine and get them to focus on him as a compelling, genre-squishing frontman once more.
NME's Mark Beaumont headed to Lydon's Cotswolds studio for the new issue of the magazine to hear about PiL's jagged, spite-dipped secret history amidst the new sessions. The results were predictably spectacular, and I urge you to check them out. And for the record, I think that Lydon is totally right to make a new PiL album – and deserves to be taken as a serious force once more.
Mainly, he's right to do it because PiL's history suggests that rather than this being a slumped run-around the studio for a bunch of aging musos attempting to harness past glories it could, shock horror, end up producing something that rivals their previous peaks. Because despite their early classics, PiL have never been tied to one 'era'.
The band's masterpiece may be 1979's 'Metal Box' but, having released music in three different decades, they've managed to return again and again with relevant material that proves that Lydon's talent is enduring. 'Rise' was released seven years after 'Metal Box'. 'Open Up', Lydon and PiL's amazing collaboration with Leftfield, came out in 1994. This is not fleeting talent, and accordingly we should have faith that the newie has the potential to be just as great.
And if it doesn't? Hey, there's always the next Pistols reunion…