Public Image Ltd.: What the World Needs Now...

What the World Needs Now... is the sound of a band not really caring too hard about their current stature. Luckily for the listener, the pros outweigh the cons.

Public Image Ltd.

What the World Needs Now...

Label: PiL Official
Release Date: 2015-09-04

In an era where numerous veteran pop bands are reuniting and managing to release one album before re-imploding, it's bands like Crowded House and Public Image Ltd. that are, so far, proving to be the exception by maintaining an active career beyond just an album and a tour. PiL, in particular, makes for a strange case. Fresh off the heels of the Sex Pistols brief, high octane run, Johnny Rotten became John Lydon and immediately took to a different form of punk, which we now think of as the post-punk crossed with the goth movement of the early '80s.

Lydon's volatile personality, his unorthodox vocal delivery (which didn't always rely on things like melody), and the ever-revolving door of band members don't exactly scream the word "longevity" when you put them all of these components together. But after a 20 year yawn, featuring John Lydon's one-and-so-far-only solo album Psycho's Path, Lydon was able to make the whole PiL thing work again thanks to the surprising sturdy reunion album This Is PiL. This was an album that tried it all -- the easy-to-grasp pop of "One Drop", the group improvisation of "Deeper Waters", the druggy haze of "I Must Be Dreaming", the throwback to "Religion" in "The Room I Am In", the lengthy experimentation in "Out of the Woods" and the general snottiness of the title track. On that album, Public Image Ltd. had much to prove and they pulled it off with considerable style.

With What the World Needs Now..., the second album from the rejuvenated PiL, the band must have much less to prove this time around because that's how things sound right about now. There's something reassuring and refreshing about hearing a band bashing out an album with very little at stake, even if it doesn't produce their greatest work.


What the World Needs Now... still has punch and variety. It has infectious tunes, roaring guitar work from Lu Edmonds, and a barely-aged vocal delivery form Lydon himself. The album's first song and first single "Double Trouble" has Lydon cramming the words "Don't fly me to the moon" together so tightly that you can just picture his entire body tensing. The PiL of 2015, like the PiL of years past, can never be confused for any other band. In other words, all of the key parts are in their right places. Yet What the World Needs Now... doesn't seem to reach the heights that this band's DNA would normally guarantee. But there is virtue in not trying to swing for the fences each and every time. A song like "The One" allows the band to explore a rather safe shuffle thereby putting Edmonds's stamp on the track courtesy of a lovely ascending guitar line. The following track, "Big Blue Sky", must have been set aside for the purposes of stumbling upon a happy accident. The eight-minute song's payoff comes in the form of thick vocal harmonies on the word "sky".

But Mr. Rotten is never far from Mr. Lydon. "Don't need to know you!", "What you fucking nagging again? / About what, what, what?", "Fuck sex / It's bullocks. All sex is bullocks." That last little nugget come from closer "Shoom", a song I like to think that Lydon wrote after he saw The Simpson's portrayal of Bart Simpson as Johnny Rotten (a song those Pistols sang went "Education's bullocks! Bullocks! America is bullocks! Bullocks!"). Similarly, "Shoom" is Lydon hissing out a list of things that he thinks is bullocks, including humans and success, of course. In between these "verses" is a chorus where Lydon uses all the energy his voice can conjure to loudly proclaim that "What the world needs now is another fuck off!" So in case you were wondering what the ellipses in the album's title implied, there you go.

The steady touring since 2009 has kept the rest of the current PiL lineup sounding nimble. Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith have recorded with Lydon before on Happy? and 9, two Public Image Ltd. albums from the '80s. Bassist Scott Firth may be the "newcomer" here, but he easily slides into the sound without any ceremony. Together, they continue to provide an unshakable foundation on which John Lydon can flail about with any impulse that crosses his mind. Whether he hits the mark or goes slightly astray, the very name Public Image Ltd. is present once more to keep the whole thing anchored.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.