Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Public Image Ltd – "Commercial Zone" (PiL Records Inc. – XYZ-007) 1984

Recently Deceased  alleged guitar genius Keith Levene (alleged by himself mainly) who was responsible for stealing the tapes for Public Image Ltd's dodgy follow-up to the classic 'Flowers Of Romance' LP.,and remixing the results to make himself look even more like the feckless junkie he really was. The accepted wisdom is that "Commercial Zone" is far superior to the awful dross that was the official PiL fourth studio album, clumsily entitled, "This is what you want...This is what you get".....which I can now reveal to be incorrect.....we wanted Metal Box 2 but got "This is what you want...This is what you get" and "The Commercial Zone",in other words, the same album twice. (get Metal Box deluxe Edition Here!)
As horrified as I was back in 1984,as to how unapologetically 'Bad' this record by one of the greatest groups to have ever stalked this Earth ,was. I now have changed my mind. They are both quite awful in 1984 terms,but in 2022, they both sound rather otherworldly,and have aged like a budget bottom shelf wine.They just don't make 'em like this anymore! 
What on earth is that singer doing? A horrible throaty hi-pitched whine that seems to be singing the same tune in every song.Wasn't he in Those Sex Pistols once upon a time? How did it get to be like this?
The music IS Disco,but a Disco that no-one wants to dance to....which is,in fact, the best kind of Disco.
Keith Levine stole and released "Commercial Zone" after he was sacked from PiL so as not to endanger the group's lucrative Japanese tour due to his severe drug addiction. Revealing an album with no hits,even though "This Is Not A Love Song" was a massive worldwide smash,it really shouldn't have seen the light of day when comparing it to little Johnny Rotten Band's previous work.
However, having not listened to these two different versions of the same record after a good thirty years abstinence,I now find myself enjoying this confusingly disconnected art school drop-out funk ...with a singer who seems to be taking the piss out himself and the record buying public in general.
Previously, my opinion of John Lydon, and his post-1981 work followed, somewhat, the general direction of this rather malicious review of "This is what you want...This is what you get", by the NME's Biba Kopf, who got his/her claws out ruthlessly back in good ol' 1984:

"Dear John, the big kiss off:

This is what you want? Carry On Picking The Carrion Part Umpteen? Starring Johnny Rotten as Little Miss Understood, the world’s most self-righteous schoolmarm, whose once shrivelling, presently shrivelled, wit has tightened to a contstipated bowel that slowly and painfully emits squeaky sarcasms only capable of raising tears in 11 year olds? Or the frightening faithful class creep Martin Applecheeks back in line?
This is what you’re left with when you make a career of going against nature (only to be defeated by your own): a fixed scowl, a very limited public image indeed, intuition dried up, refinement beyond grasp, reduced by sloth to hiring studio morticians to cosmetise the corpse of a long dead idea, because you no longer care or have energy enough to be invigoratingly careless.
Now bored with testing the world against your whims you blame it, anyone else but yourself-it can never be your fault, can it? - for your loss of interest, loss of words, loss of vision; for your very deafness… But surely even you can feel the cheapness of the horrortronics permeating this record with the stink of the stale and the secondhand. Sudden sax squalls and thunderous drum breaks are hardly the things to blow it away.
For one whose chief pride has always been remaining true to yourself, I’m surprised your conscience so readily accepts your feeble reasoning. Just because you write a love song, there must be something wrong with the form? Obviously. And because your dwindling legion still stand by to watch the waning moon of your rotten talent, believing it will rise again, they must be thoroughly abused, thereby disabused of that sentimental notion? Naturally.
With you on the last point, Johnboy, and will reluctantly admit you a piddling victory. Your idiot finger wagging rhythm ’n’ entropy, exemplified by the bicker banter of the title ‘This Is What You Want This Is What You Get’, is crass and mediocre enough to complete your self-willed, pointless martyrdom. Congratulations. You’ve earned our contempt. Here it comes:
Wot a bloody stupid cackleshit asshole coyote lied-to done-in-good ’n’ rotten put-upon no-hope lumpenlard jackal knucklehead trickletalent pile of jokepuke you turned out to be. There ain’t enough copographers in the world to swallow your PiL in quantity enough to justify the cost any longer.

Piss off.

Biba Kopf, NME, 4th August 1984"

Of course this kinda of intelligent funky stuff was ten a penny back in the eighties,and it got swallowed up in the swell of the tsunami,then dragged out to sea.But,all said, the Bad Life/Mad Max video is,and always was,and always will be, one of the best video's ever made,in my humble opinion.
And as much as I agreed with Bibs in 1984, I now have,predictably, the opposite view nowadays. It's a lump of 'lumpenlard jackal knucklehead' cypto-genius is what it is......it went really downhill from here however.

This blurb was supposed to be a tribute to the recently expired Keith Levene,to whom the much over-used word 'Genius' was often applied largely by...er...Mr Lydon a lot, and not by very many others save himself.
As his reputation is intrinsically linked to PiL's first two albums, it is partially true; but he was conspicuous by his smack induced absence on Flowers of Romance,and largely invisible on The "Commercial Zone" bootleg too.However, one must point to his highly unique contributions to "Theme" and "Public Image" (the single),which will echo deep into infinity and beyond with their shimmering perfection, and the inescapable irony of John's lyrics to "Theme"...."I wish I could Diiiiieeee".
Not sure Keef would appreciate the reality of such words wherever he may be in the eternal now,what was, and what should have been.
Rest In Peace Keef.....and hopefully there are no Drugs in paradise to fuck up the after-life too!


Commercial Zone:

1 Mad Max 4:11
2 Love Song 4:27
3 Young Brits 3:40
4 Bad Night 3:29
5 The Slab 3:36
6 Lou Reed Part I 3:58
7 Lou Reed Part II 2:50
8 Blue Water 3:30
9 Miller High Life 2:38

"This Is What You Want...."

1 Bad Life
2 This Is Not A Love Song
3 Solitaire
4 Tie Me To The Length Of That
5 The Pardon
6 Where Are You?
7 1981
8 The Order Of Death


northfieldhat said...

I believe what made it worse was the use of
professional musicians. They ruin everything.
It's somehow like seeing a comedy performance
where you know all the punchlines. No spark.

Jonny Zchivago said...

Indeed.....never trust the advice of a professional,my father told me. Anything that depends on sales and sale-ability brings nothing but misery.
As for musicians....ergh!

RabidRabbit said...

Man, I kind of wish I lived in the days when music magazines could publish stuff like that review. Even Pitchfork now seems to have become rather bland :)

Jonny Zchivago said...

Yes Rabid Rabbit, music journalism died along with the art of Rock'n'roll.
Everything's great innit? In their pointless world.
I have yet to hear of a review in yer modern mags that actively slags off an artist,without mentioning a track of the group or album, for the danger of hurting someone's feelings.
It needs to be revived. I like to think i do something similar,and i wager no music mag would want me anywhere near it.....or I near IT!

Philip Johnson said...

Doing "Anarchy In The UK" with a pub piano on The Tube seemed like some kind of nadir of embarrassment in 1983, and nowadays seems quite funny. This stuff, on the other hand... When PiL worked they hit a groove of their own, and it's a pity the three of them couldn't stick together. But in the last few days I've seen at least one reminiscence of the late Levine being called a "cunt" by people who had to work with him.

Biba Kopf was an alias for Chris Bohn, who also wrote under his own name for NME and Melody Maker. Maybe it was just for when he felt like insulting someone.

northfieldhat said...

They do mediocre writing while praising Lester Bangs.

Philip Sanderson said...

Genius? Dunno but Levene did pioneer that chorus/flange chiming guitar that everyone (the Cure, Siouxie etc etc) then copied and which eventually gave us U2 so maybe it wasn't such a good thing but heh Metal Box is a 'masterpiece' and the Flowers of Romance is unrepentantly bleak and half-baked and probably the most experimental thing to chart back then. I just watched some of the un-Pil gigs from the 2000s on YouTube in which Levene effortlessly plays all the guitar parts, Wobble looks a tad bored and some Rotten wannabe snarls along sounding pretty much like the real thing which is a mistake on so many levels.

kevinesse said...

Lou Reed parts 1 and 2 are the best of song titles, especially in light of the lyrics. I was partial to this version of the LP at the time, and never came back to them.....I'm so very clever. Thanks for the post

Richie Muster said...

That's a fucking excellent review. I love scabrous when it's done with wit and inventiveness like that. Specially when the target's a deserving one, which, in hindsight, this one most certainly is.

RabidRabbit said...

Indeed, thanks to this blog for keeping music journalism how it should be *fistbump*:):)

Fanny Blancmange said...

Thanks for reminding me how vile the UK music press and its interlocutors in the 'musical' acts back in the day were.

jonder said...

I won't disagree that the un-PiL gigs were wrong on many levels, but it must have been deliciously satisfying for Levene and Wobble to show the world that Lydon could easily be replaced by a soundalike, just as he did when he sacked them.

Jonny Zchivago said...

The Un-Pil gigs are something i could see myself attending as entertainment.I may have even stayed longer than my usual 20 mins....no gig should be longer than 20 mins.

The UK music press were rather good in my opinion,not letting pompous pop star twats get away with the shit they always get away with.Held to account for the impressionable public.

I'm at a loss as to how on earth 'the Edge' always gets name-dropped as being Levene influenced...can't hear it at all.....maybe a bit of Dave Gilmour' echo response style in there,and the general post punk choppy shit with the same unaffordable, but affordable in 1980 effects that keith used from 1978 onwards....but no actual Keef in there.

Anonymous said...

Can't really add too much except Levene and Lydon do seem like nightmares to deal with while Wobble seems like a good bloke.

Drstock said...

I love CM, its the direction PIL should have gone in, the last great PIL album was sadly Flowers, all since are dirge TBH. PIL were and could have been important without all the ego mania

Anonymous said...

Ricky Dinneen, whose band played with U2, talking about nutball Cork guitar player Giordaí Ua Laoghaire: "Giordaí always used to use an echo machine, it had a kind of a spacey sound...We supported U2 and when they came back next time, The Edge was using all these echo effects. Giordaí mightn’t remember it, but I remember it well because we were watching them from up in the balcony…(laughs) ’look at that cunt, he’s taken my effect’."

So there you go.

Jonny Zchivago said...

LOL!...good story.
People need to realise that having a guitar style is a lot different to having the latest effects before everyone else.Seeing those burks with two suitcases full of effects thinking no-one else is doing this moves my bowels...what ever happened to having ideas?...Then i glance down at my set up, a modern echo box permanently on Tape Echo setting, a cheap distortion pedal, and a Wah-Wah...and i laugh.....what are the odds that The Edge has the same set-up as me on the next...and hopefully last...U2 LP.

Anonymous said...

U2 have been dogged for years by claims that they ripped off other Irish bands. My impression is that really people were just angry that of all the Irish bands of that era, they were the ones that got big...

It must have been soon after that incident that G Ua L ditched that band and joined local rivals Microdisney. They were recorded live in 1980, and this was the result.


You tell me if you can recognize that guitar sound...

Anonymous said...

I think Brian Wilson used those other musicians well in the mid sixties, as did Mr. Wall of Sound, among others.

Anonymous said...

Great post/comments - excuse me being late to the party. Speaking as one of those churlish gits who isn't easily pleased, can I just say for the record that I went to the London 'Metal Box in Dub' show and it was absolutely stunning. I agree that it sounds all wrong in theory but you had to be there, maaaaan! The Lydon soundalike wore a mask throughout so instead of being a visual distraction, his uncanny vocal resemblance simply became part of the instrumental mix. Rather than slavish recreations, most of the renditions stretched out the original songs in fascinating ways and Keef was on fire. RIP.

On a separate note, although Commercial Zone sounds a tad insipid now, we should remember that it was unfinished and never intended to be released in that form. TIWYW, TIWYG sounds horrible in comparison but Biba Kopf's hysterical review is ludicrously wrong-headed. It's not that Lydon & co. were being lazy or simply didn't care - on the contrary, they're clearly trying really hard to put a new twist on the Commercial Zone songs. It's just a shame that the end results are vile.

As for Kopf's dig: "For one whose chief pride has always been remaining true to yourself, I’m surprised your conscience so readily accepts your feeble reasoning. Just because you write a love song, there must be something wrong with the form? Obviously." Eh? It's called This Is Not a Love Song because it's not a love song. Is he thick or something?


Anonymous said...

PS The only thing that ever sounded decent on TIWYW, TIWYG was 1981, mainly because it sounded like a Flowers of Romance out-take, and then 30+ years later it was revealed that that was basically what it was (!)