NME, 28th September, 2005
© 2005 NME
The Best Of British £1 Notes CD
"Re-issue of the week"
by Rob Fitzpatrick
Rotten to the Core
Career-spanning compilation from every dentist's dream date
John Lydon hasn't been called Johnny Rotten for about 25 years, but if you mentioned that name to pretty much anyone in the country, they'd know precisely who you meant. They'd picture a 21-year-old leaning at almost 90 degrees into his mic stand, a ripped Vivienne Westwood shirt and tartan bondage trousers strung across his rake-thin frame, A Dickensian bad-boy in cheap, rectangular sunglasses whose whiplash anger and natural intellect inspired the last great pop-driven generational divide of our times. Let us not forget that this is a man who, nearly 30 years ago, caused a handful of people to actually destroy their own television sets when he appeared on them, cackling like a madman, for fear their children might see him and want to be like him. Who can you say that about today? Sure, 50 Cent's moronic mug makes me want to kick the shit out of my TV too, but not for the same reason,
Johnny Rotten, however, was only a very small part of John Lydon. And Lydon, a man who has turned his own spit and snarl into art, has made a fair few incredible records of his own. In fact, if there's one thing that this, his first ever career-spanning compilation proves, it's that the Sex Pistols, as great a singles band as they were, were only the beginning of a journey into some seriously dark territory. The Pistols, for all their fury, were irredeemably linked with the past. Malcolm McLaren's teddy-boy fantasies made pasty, spotty, flesh. The Pistols were never about the future of anything and while the tracks representing them here ('Anarchy in the UK', 'Holidays in the Sun' and 'God Save The Queen') are brilliant pop records, as furious and righteous today as they have ever been, they are musical dead ends built on Eddie Cochran riffs written around the same year Lydon was born.
This compilation shows the best thing the Pistols ever did was create a market for Lydon's more outre dreams and 'The Best Of British £1 Notes' compiles these with real skill. With PiL, with Afrika Bambaataa and with Leftfield, Lydon is a constant force for change and he demands the listener take some risks too. Take a track like the 12" version of 'Death Disco'. Removed from its home on 1979's 'Metal Box', it sounds unearthly, mineshaft dark, like music imagined by someone who'd never heard any, surely a great place to start.
'This Is Not A Love Song' and 'Flowers Of Romance' are pop songs with razorblade's under their nails; their defiance is almost child-like. 1984's one-off single 'World Destruction' recorded with Afrika Bambaataa and Bill Laswell invents Prodigy's 'Firestarter' some 12 years early. Lydon's track with Leftfield, 'Open Up', remains (alongside, well, 'Firestarter') the only instance of a 'rock' vocal working with a 'dance' track and thousands have tried. 'Rise' reimagines Talking Heads' angular funk without the glasses-wearing asexuality, while 'Warrior' is, sadly, a little too much like Billy Idol and the dance-mix of 'God Save The Queen' - by Leftfield's Neil Barnes - is actually rubbish, but there is so much here to discover.
John Lydon is 50 next year. That 21-year-old didn't know the half of it.
WHY I LOVE PiL:
Luke Smith, Clor
"When I was pretty young, I heard 'Rise' on TV, but it's the earlier PiL stuff I love. It's Jah Wobble's bass that does it for me, because I used to go to reggae festivals when I was growing up around Hackney they always had these big soundsystems. You can hear the reggae/dub influence really well on 'Metal Box'. I always try and get our bass player to turn it up to get the vibe going. It's not instant music but once you get it, you find yourself hooked."
"Lydon's finest ever moment wasn't the first four Pistols singles - it was PiL's 'Metal Box'. It's still ahead of its time today. Lydon, Levene and Wobble are all amazing musicians and to be this great after the Pistols was a miracle. Lydon was a martyr: he is in exile in LA to this day because he told the truth. He's England's national treasure."
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