Sunday, 7 April 2013
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 26 Metal Box
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 26
Metal Box - P.I.L.
"Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine"
Maybe it wasn't quite a basement but John Lydon's post - Pistols albums seem to have been dreamed up in dark rooms. The first P.I.L. single was a monstrous pop moment and remains one of my all time favourite seven inches. The first album also included songs like Religion 1 & 2 where John continued to confront society with an unflattering mirror.
It wasn't society that was confronted in Metal Box but that same fearless stare was turned inwards as Lydon, Levene and Wobble deconstructed rock and rebuilt it in a series of improvisational, droning, hypnotic tracks.
The album opens with Albatross, a ten minute jam, recorded on it's first take, over which Lydon chants disjointed lines, returning always to the line "Getting rid of the Albatross." As a listener, you wonder if you are part of the albatross. JOHNNY ROTTEN! couldn't walk the streets of London without protection, and neither could John Lydon. This music isn't chasing the audience, the audience has to chase the music. Although Lydon's voice wavers like arabic chanting or Irish Sean Nós singing. the emotions are clearly true. This is soul music.
The EMOTION becomes even more harrowing on Swan Lake / Death Disco where we overhear John trying to express his feelings on watching his mother dying. Not easy listening. "Words cannot express."
It is also about SOUND. Keith Levene's metallic, almost tinny guitar sounds and Jah Wobble's deep rumbles of bass seem at times to be having an impromptu conversation rather than performing from a prepared script. The predominant sound on the turntable at the infamous Gunther Grove flat was, by all accounts DUB, and this is evident in the washes of sound that make up this record, snatches of half erased vocals, pulses of subsonic bass, and metal guitar shards.
Probably my favourite track is Poptones. At almost eight minutes it never seems long enough. Dissonant, abstract and featuring a phenomenal vocal performance from Lydon before it slips into a long hypnotic instrumental workout.
It's followed by Careering, by far the best song about 'the Troubles'. Words like 'trigger machinery / mangle the military" and the repeated question "Is this living?" worm their way into your head. It is disturbing, full of gunshot drums and envisages sectarianism as an infection:
"I've been careering
Across the border
Is this living?
Both sides of the river
There is bacteria"
There is a constant play with the idea that this is not music, and Lydon throws quite a few jabs at himself : "Voice moaning in a speaker" "Everyone loves you / Until they know you" "There must be meaning / Behind the moaning."
They are all phantom jabs however, taunting the audience who don't get this. Johnny knew he was a contender for heavyweight champion. He exudes the proper disdain for his opponents, who are already flat on their backs on their "ordered lawns", noses bleeding caviar.
This album continues to spin its web deep in the DNA of music. It still sounds post everything, even things that haven't happened YET.