Johnny Rotten's Public Image Ltd. 20-year return, Jah Wobble and lousy surfing
John Lydon -- aka Johnny Rotten -- speaks in stanzas, with grand pauses. He’d finish a thought, I’d give him a few seconds, I’d start to speak but then he’d start in on another thought on the same subject, sometimes in third person. He was full of sharp declarations and axioms like they were print-ready for badges and t-shirts. Perhaps its because many were badges and t-shirts.
It’s been 20 years since Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. has released new music, but the frontman contends that PiL was never really gone. Listeners can hear the band’s influence in contemporary artists today, and that his parade of rotating members have gone on to initiate other bands bearing PiL’s mark. You should and could say the same about the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten’s other heavily influential band. Along with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, the group has performed on and off as the Sex Pistols live, and this month the “God Save the Queen” single is getting a vinyl reissue and the Pistols’ album “Never Mind the Bollocks” will drop as a 35th anniversary reissue.
PiL’s resurgence started in 2009 when guitarist Lu Edmonds, and drummer Bruce Smith and new blood Scott Firth on bass hit the road. They circled up, ultimately, at Steve Winwood’s studio in Cotswolds, England and bashed out “This is PiL,” out next Tuesday (May 29) via PiL's own label with distro from Redeye. The entire album is available to stream, and has been for two months.
Last month, Johnny Rotten was on the phone from California, his adoptive home for more than two decades. Despite what I was warned, there wasn’t too much sass, barely any spit and the 56-year-old was willing to talk about just about anything, from his contentious relationship to ex-bassist Jah Wobble, to the passing of his step-daughter Ari Up (of the Slits) to his money troubles in starting another PiL album again.
Despite past troubles, Lydon seemed at peace in many ways. He was also in a good mood. We spoke for 50 minutes, fits and starts and all. When he picked up the phone, I think I heard the toilet flush.