Q Magazine, June 1989
© 1989 Q Magazine
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(VIRGIN V2588) LP/Cass/CD ****
PiL's seeping chill
by David Sinclair
For all his wry image-mongering
and cantankerous disclaimers, there is no doubt that John Lydon is now
intent on cutting it on a strictly musical level. The band on '9'
comprises the same line-up which he assembled as long ago as 1986 to tour
the 'Album' album, although guitarist Lu Edmonds, his hearing
completely shot, was forced into early retirement after this recording.
Accordingly, Lydon has developed a more sophisticated rapport with these musicians than he has with any previous grouping. Instead of simply applying his voice like a blow torch against the grain of whatever is going on behind it, which has tended to be his method in the past, his phrasing and pitching now act in much closer sympathy with the musical environment.
And what an environment these guys provide. Building on the foundations laid down by the 1987 album Happy?, guitarists Edmonds and John McGeoch, bassist Alan Dias and drummer Bruce Smith have welded together an intricate framework of sprightly rhythms and brooding post-Gothic rifferama that glides past with all the poise and menace of a battleship slicing through choppy seas.
Lydon continues to give the songs blunt comic-speak titles - Disappointed, Warrior, Spit, Worry, Armada and Happy (no question mark) - and to construct Iyrics that hang together like snippets of conversation overheard in a milling crowd. The texts of these sinister litanies are peppered with dense clusters of sneering cliches: 'Why does the devil have all the good tunes?", "I take no prisoners", "Pride goes before a fall", "Beggars can't be choosers", 'What are friends for?". During one of the standout tracks, the sketchy, neurotic USLS the phrase "The bomb is planted in the luggage hold" suddenly pops out of nowhere, and a seeping chill sets in.
People say that Lydon has sold out, but that is to confuse the cleaner textures of the music with a sweeter intent. On the contrary, he has picked up a scalpel where once a kitchen knife would do.
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