(As solicited by, but never published in, Rock & Roll Disc …)
Public Image Ltd.
PiL CD Box II (Japanese import)
Columbia COCY 9338-41
Producers: Martin Atkins, Gary Langan, Bill Laswell, John Lydon, Bob Miller, Public Image Ltd.
Engineers: John Corsaro, Bob Miller
Total disc times: 36:31; 40:54; 35:17; 45:52; 12:44 (no SPARS code)
The next time you’re in a Tokyo record store with eighty dollars burning a hole in your wallet and a desire to inflict some nihilistic blare upon your ears, do not buy this boxed set.
Not that PiL CD Box II doesn’t contain some of John Lydon’s finest howlings from the void, but all it does is repackage--without bonus tracks or alternate takes--four-and-a-half previously released PiL albums circa 1983-1987, each of which you can buy individually and at a cheaper total cost.
Oh yeah, you also get a fifty-five-page booklet that annotates each disc, details the sixteen or so PiL lineups, and provides full lyrics, rare photos, and a band history.
Too bad most of it’s in Japanese.
So my two-star merit rating is based more on the economics of this set than on its content. At a total time of three hours, eleven minutes, and eighteen seconds, the thirty-six songs could’ve easily fit onto three CDs, a move that could’ve knocked a few bucks off the price and still left room for 1989’s Nine. Lydon is forever carping about the materialism of his former manager Malcolm McLaren, but PiL CD Box II is a pretty fair rock-and-roll swindle itself.
Still, suppose someone were to buy this doorstop for you. What would you end up with?
You’d get Compact Disc (a.k.a. Album and Cassette), the 1986 album Bill Laswell co-produced for Lydon and for which he assembled an all-star band that included Steve Vai, Bernie Worrell, Tony Williams, and Ginger Baker. Until 1992’s That What Is Not, it contained the heaviest and sharpest post-Metal Box music recorded under the PiL imprint.
You’d also get This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get (1984), which is almost as good. What put it on many critics’ turd lists was its skimpiness (thirty-six minutes), Lydon’s replacement of Keith Levene’s guitar parts with those of Colin Moore, and a horn-marred version of the single “This Is Not a Love Song.” Nevertheless, J. Kordosh, writing in Creem, captured its impact best when he said the album was probably one of the best of ’84 because it made him want to rip it off the turntable and throw it out the window.
Next, you’d get a maxi-single with “Blue Water” and two versions of “This Is Not a Love Song” (the horn-free original plus a tasteful remix), a configuration that can still be found as an import EP that adds PiL’s 1978 anthem “Public Image.” (So, like, why not include that configuration here?)
Last, you’d get Happy? (the three best songs of which are on the 1990 PiL compilation Greatest Hits So Far) and 1983’s notoriously lame Live in Tokyo. (Lydon was in fine form for the show, but the members of his band--PiL lineup number eleven according to the booklet--played as if they were sight reading, which they might’ve been.)
Since this box’s title is PiL CD Box II, I assume there’s a PiL CD Box I containing Public Image (a.k.a. First Edition, 1978), Metal Box (’79), the live Paris Au Printemps (’80), and Flowers of Romance (’81). If in fact there is, it’s a killer.
But if it costs eighty bucks, it’s a rip-off too.