Public Image Limited
Metal Box / Second Edition (1979 / 1980)
The story goes like this: John Lydon (aka Johnny something or `nother) wished to inspire another record company coup d’état reminiscent of such happenings with the Pistols. (Supposedly the “Albatross” P.I.L. wished to “get rid of” on the opening track were all the `xec’s trying to reign Levine, Lydon, and Wobble in and mutually “sowing seeds of discontent”) P.I.L. decided on a budget heavy release full of epic-length songs (“Albotross”: 10:32) that brought a whole new meaning to the term obscurity and occasional annoyment. (“Chant! Chant! Chant”) A chance to take experimentation to a whole new realm with Virgin/ Warner picking up the tab.
The final product were three 12″ vinyl 45s (the best sound you could get at that time was the 12″ 45) packaged in a metal box similar to a film tin. Each unit being so expensive to produce, only 55,000 copies were produced for its European release titled Metal Box. All copies were gobbled up almost instantly by a rabid music market. If the true intent was to piss off the powers that be, it was a miserable failure. A year later Metal Box was re-released as two sound-inferior LPs as Second Edition and made its way to the states, becoming a highly marketable success story much to all parties involved’s chagrin.
The music itself is a testament to Wobble’s often underrated influence on the formation P.I.L. As the Pistols were the dead end of rock’n’roll, P.I.L. was de-rock’n’roll. And just as much as Lydon’s lyrics or Levene’s guitar, Wobble’s bass helped to epitomize this quality. Almost every song begins with Wobble’s trademark deadpan monotonous bass-playing, providing a framework upon which Lydon and Levene build upon. And instrumental tracks (Yes, Lydon can take a step back.) such as “Radio 4,” “Socialist,” and “Graveyard” resemble much of Wobble’s solo work. With haunting and quivering keyboards, the overall feeling of these releases is a bitter atmospheric quality, and it could be argued that Metal Box / Second Edition is the grumpy grampa of contemporary trends in trance.
Production tricks and techniques utilized on Metal Box / Second Edition are just as experimental as the music itself. The multi-layered songs ebb and flow with fluid incontinence. Technology couldn’t truly capture the potential of Metal Box / Second Edition until the advent of CD.
Although Metal Box / Second Edition is often dismissed as merely an exploratory tangent of P.I.L., it is definitely a watershed moment for P.I.L. and their fans returned to time and time again. After all, it is the first time Lydon stated “I could be wrong… ” Warner Brothers Records Warner Brothers Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019