“The record is excellent,” says John Lydon of Public Image Ltd’s forthcoming album, ‘What The World Needs Now…’ But then he would say that. The former Sex Pistol is many things – provocative, hugely entertaining – but shy and retiring when it comes to trumpeting his own abilities isn’t one of them. “To my mind, this is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he adds confidently.
He says the record has little in common with PiL’s 2012 triumphant ‘This Is PiL’, and that its roots go back to when he was writing his 2014 autobiography, his second, Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored. During any free time, Lydon would write, and write and write, until he was worried his lyrics were going to “turn into psychobabble”.
“Thankfully, talent will prevail and I found the answers. It’s quite depressing analysing yourself, but I was writing a book so I had to.” As a result, some of the songs sound like an accompaniment to said book. ‘Whole Life Time’, ‘I’m Not Satisfied’ and ‘C’est La Vie’ are as direct as their titles, and Lydon insists it’s not worth trying to play anything on the album backwards at 78rpm in search of any secret meanings: “I don’t do hidden messages and I am fairly direct as a human being.”
‘Double Trouble’, meanwhile, started after Lydon had a minor disagreement with his wife over some plumbing. “The toilet was broken and we had to get it repaired, and from a basic family row it turned into quite a genius idea for a song. It’s uplifting, like a good argument can be. I like getting something off me chest, not harbouring any resentment. It’s the most powerful thing you can do, especially when there is resolution at the end of it. Absolutely.”
Like its predecessor, ‘What The World Needs Now…’ was recorded in Wincraft Studios in the Cotswolds, the converted barn rented from former Spencer Davis Group and Blind Faith member Steve Winwood. Lydon and bandmates Lu Edmonds, Scott Firth and Bruce Smith loved the atmosphere when working there previously, and wanted to recreate it.
“We’re a great bunch of people that really do like each other. And that helps,” says Lydon. “I always thought being in a band meant animosity was the driving force, but that turns out not to be true. Ilearned that when we got back together in 2009, and the energy has remainedever since; vibrant.”
There was never a doubt in Lydon’s mind that there would be another album after ‘This Is PiL’, the band’s ninth album, and their first in 17 years. “It’s my life. Everything I’ve ever earned has gone into the music, and I take it very seriously,” he says. Much of the funding for that album came from Lydon’s foray into television with ‘Rotten TV’, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here and ‘John Lydon’s Megabugs’, but more notably, his infamous Country Life butter adverts. The latter in particular was widely ridiculed at the time but lucrative and necessary, he argues, as it gave him artistic freedom and the means to release another record.
“God, that was liberating,” he says of being free of a label. “For 17 years I was cast into the wilderness. We were in such a hole it was financially impossible to crawl out of it and we found ourselves in a position where we could not afford to work. It was debilitating, but it got me involved in TV, and I liked TV that I did,” he adds. “But there was something missing; that musical pulse that I need. Everything I do has got that musical, poetic beat. Even when I talk there’s a melody to it, I think. If I ever work out what it is it’ll be the end of my career. Life must remain a mystery.”