Rolling Stone, March 5th, 1981
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1981 Malu Halasa / Rolling Stone
PIL ON NEW TRACK WITH 'FLOWERS OF ROMANCE' ALBUM
By Malu Halasa. Photograph by Aaron Rapoport.
"Everyone in Public Image Ltd. is equal," says singer John Lydon. "We have equal say, equal merits, we each have our parts to play, blah blah. Hopefully, we're not just crawling up our own arseholes."
Lydon, his bright red hair strikingly set off by green polyester pants and an oversize checked jacket, is ensconsced in the basement studio of Virgin Records' London Townhouse with two of his three fellow PILs: Keith Levene, the group's gaunt guitarist, and Jeannette Lee, a slight, brunette filmmaker whose PIL videos have yet to be shown. The fourth member of the collective, Dave Crowe, handles its finances.
They have just wrapped up their fourth album, 'Flowers Of Romance', and Levene is at the mixing board with PIL's whiz kid engineer Nick Launay, who's setting things up for a playback.
Lydon notices Launay diddling with the dials and, lapsing for a moment into his best Johnny Rotten snarl, cracks:
"You're just trying to draw attention to yourself. We're not impressed."
Suddenly a savage scream erupts from the speakers: it's 'Four Enclosed Walls', the album's opening track. As the tape winds on, it's apparent that this LP is highly percussive – an interesting development, since Public Image Ltd. has no full-time drummer.
"We've had a lot of trouble with rock 'n' roll merchants," Lydon explains. "They would only play get-down-and-boogie stuff. Some people found it hard to stretch their brains outside of that."
For 'Flowers Of Romance' the group hired one of its former drummers, Martin Atkins, to play on a few tracks. Levene drummed on others, as did Lydon – who bashed away on whatever was at hand on such cuts as 'Phenagen' and untuned the strings of a banjo while hitting them with a drumstick on the album's title tune.
'Flowers Of Romance' (the title was the name of Sid Vicious' first band) will be released on February 25th in America, unlike PIL's debut album and their recent live set, 'Paris Au Printemps'. And while PIL's dense, discordant music bears little resemblance to the Sex Pistols' roaring rock 'n' roll, Lydon certainly seems to have the Pistols' late bassist in mind when he sings:
"I can't depend on these so-called friends, it's a pity you need to defend, I'll take the furniture and start all over again."
Like much of the LP, 'Flowers Of Romance' sounds vaguely Middle Eastern, with violins weaving through the hypnotic rhythms. One song, 'Hymie's Him', even features a tubular percussion instrument from Bali.
"But the tribal strains, Eastern or whatever, aren't done on purpose," Levene points out. "All it amounts to is that we don't like any music at the moment. The only records you'll catch us listening to are some Renaissance suites. We're interested in different sounds and in electronics – not in terms of 'wah-wah', but ambient sounds."
"Well," says Lydon, summing up this latest chapter in the PIL saga, "it ain't rock 'n' roll, that's for sure!"
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© Aaron Rapoport