A still-vital John Lydon rages towards retirement on a saucy, scuzzy new album
There is a song on ‘What The World Needs Now…’ called ‘I’m Not Satisfied’. Coming, as this sentiment does, from the former Johnny Rotten, the fact hardly needs to be plainly stated. But if John Lydon – one-time Sex Pistol, occasional butter salesman, eternal malcontent – hasn’t exactly mellowed in his old age, we can at least determine a few things that he loves.
Public Image Ltd, for instance. Lydon used Country Life to get his post-Pistols group back in the recording studio, and aged 59, when many creaky old rockers are topping up their retirement fund, he’s making obstreperous, cantankerous, often quite silly music that caters to no-one but himself. As an illustration of this, PiL’s 11th album kicks off with a track, ‘Double Trouble’, on which Lydon delivers a monologue about a broken toilet. For a moment, you wonder if Lydon is trying to outdo spiritual heirs Sleaford Mods on the scatological front. But then, a sweetly intoned “Domestos is/domestic bliss” reminds you this man is charismatic enough to sell the nation dairy produce if that’s what it takes to keep the PiL show on the road.
‘What The World Needs Now…’ sounds much the same as PiL’s last album, 2012’s ‘This Is PiL’ – a mite scuzzier, perhaps, and with added bloopy synthesizer, but broadly conforming to the same formula. Lu Edmonds fires off glassy shards of guitar, Scott Firth supplies weaving dub bass, and Lydon holds forth on whatever takes his fancy. At times it gets a little saucy. ‘Bettie Page’ is a surf-tinged tribute to the ‘50s S&M pin-up that slinks along like a pair of snakeskin creepers, while ‘Spice Of Choice’ finds Lydon gleefully rhyming “master plan” with “masturbation”.
Still, the overriding feel here is one of reflection. Burly rockers like ‘Know Now’ feel a bit hackneyed, but when PiL dial it back to an atmospheric, twilit dub, as on extinction anthem ‘C’est La Vie’ or the clanking, mechanical ‘Corporate’ – a plea for community in an increasingly dystopian 21st Century – they still sound vital. Yes, PiL have made better records. But it’s nice to know John Lydon still cares enough to rage. “What the world needs now/Is another ‘Fuck off’!” he bellows on the closing ‘Shoom’. But this bitter PiL remains easy to swallow.